The contradictions of bike-share benefits, purposes and outcomes

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Bicycle Sharing Systems (BSS) are now ubiquitous due to their plausible environmental and social benefits promoted by municipalities, operators and technology providers. Recent practices and literature however undermines many suggested benefits of BSS showing they mostly facilitate transport for already privileged demographics in increasingly exclusive urban cores. Additionally, case study performance estimates in Europe and North America commonly show low usage rates further undermining promoted benefits. In the context of urban transports existing social injustice, energy consumption and land use, which cannot be sustained, this work, drawing on data analysis, interviews and literature and media review in North America and Europe, presents how existing BSS deployments have intrinsic flaws. These convenient luxuries are typically not effective or less so than familiar, proven and less technologically innovative opportunities at achieving greater cycling modal share. This paper illustrates how with BSS deployments converge many actors, promoting success and beneficial narratives, gain advantage through diverse outcomes while residents subsidize the services economically, through public land or advertising, while receiving few benefits. Municipalities and decision makers regularly use BSS to promote themselves, their city, attract investment and develop local pride in representatives and their policy. Beyond being a good example of policy boosterism and rich in rhetoric, BSS often have less effective or just outcomes than alternative transport policies. Advertisers meanwhile utilize sustainability narratives to capitalize on new markets and commodification opportunities while effectively undermining promoted BSS outcomes. This paper provides a critical history of BSS, summarizes their stated purposes and benefits and utilizes a smart-city critique framework to evaluate outcomes. This work concludes that most BSS typically benefit the privileged, help little to increase mass cycling transport and are used as easily deployable technological (false) solutions to contemporary problems while advancing unjust tendencies to privatize public space and services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-419
Number of pages19
JournalTransportation Research, Part A: Policy and Practice
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Bicycle Sharing Systems (BSS)

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