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Public Bikesharing and Modal Shift Behavior: A Comparative Study of Early Bikesharing Systems in North America


Public bikesharing—the shared use of a bicycle fleet by the public—is an innovative mobility strategy that has recently emerged in major North American cities. Bikesharing systems typically position bicycles throughout an urban environment, among a network of docking stations, for immediate access. This paper discusses the modal shift that results from individuals participating in four public bikesharing systems in North America. The authors conducted an online survey (n =10,661 total sample), between November 2011 and January 2012, with members of four major bikesharing organizations (located in Montreal, Toronto, the Twin Cities, and Washington D.C.) and collected information regarding travel-behavior changes, focusing on modal shift, as well as public bikesharing perceptions. The survey probed member perceptions about bikesharing and found that a majority in the surveyed cities felt that bikesharing was an enhancement to public transportation and improved transit connectivity. With respect to modal shift, the results suggest that bikesharing generally draws from all travel modes. Three of the four largest cities in the study exhibited declines in bus and rail usage as a result of bikesharing. For example, 50% of respondents in Montreal reported reducing rail use, while 44% and 48% reported similar shifts in Toronto and Washington D.C., respectively. However, within those same cities, 27% to 40% of respondents reported using public transit in conjunction with bikesharing to make trips previously completed by automobile. In the Twin Cities, the dynamic was different, as 15% of respondents reported increasing rail usage versus only 3% who noted a decrease in rail use. In all cities, bikesharing resulted in a considerable decline in personal driving and taxi use, suggesting that public bikesharing is reducing urban transportation emissions, while at the same time freeing capacity of bus and rail networks within large cities.

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