The Daily Commute & Bike Sharing on NPR

I want to start this post by sharing a little secret of mine. Perhaps it’s not a secret so much as an admission, but I think it’s relevant to the content of this post nonetheless.

Here goes – I have never used a bike sharing system. For starters, I’ve never lived in a city that had a bike sharing system, although the University of Arizona had one on campus called Cat Wheels. But since I rode my own bike to campus, I never found a need to borrow one once there to get around.

Furthermore, I’ve never tried one out when I’ve traveled to cities that do offer them. But still, given my dedication as a bike commuter, I did feel qualified enough to write a detailed post about bike sharing systems for Utility Cycling a few years ago.

Excuses, excuses. Anyhow, this is a rather round-about way of telling you I’m going to write more about bike sharing, even though I’ve never used it.

NPR’s Morning Edition is currently running a series on the daily commute. In a publicity email from NPR, they said, “Everyone with a job outside of the home has one thing in common, and they almost all dread it – the commute.” On Facebook, they said, “For most of us, commuting is kind of like death and taxes – an unfortunate, but inescapable necessity.” Sorry, I like you NPR, but let’s clarify — said no bike commuter ever.

Anyhow, I do like the topic of series on the daily commute despite the little publicity hiccup NPR sent to a bike commuting blog where, actually, almost everyone looks forward to the commute. Commenters, have at it if I’m wrong here. Maybe here the issue is that not many people look forward to actually getting to work, and for those that do, you might want to keep it to yourselves.

I digress. So yesterday’s story in the series – “Shifting Gears to Make Bike-Sharing More Accessible” – was dedicated to the topic of bike sharing as a form of commuting. Bike sharing systems are springing up in cities around the U.S. and the world, and they’ve arrived to a plethora of responses. I’ve heard people call them everything from “the best thing ever” to a “complete and utter travesty”. It is with joy, disgust, and apathy that bike sharing has come to the U.S.

NPR did a little digging into bike sharing systems, especially with regard to who actually uses them. Since this series is dedicated to how people get to work, it would be helpful to figure out who it is exactly that uses bike sharing systems to get to work or just to get around.

Image from Wikipedia

Honestly, what NPR found out isn’t terribly surprising – white, middle to high income men tend to be the most common demographic for bike share users. This just about parallels the bike commuting demographic in general. I’m making this statement somewhat anecdotally, but if you feel inclined, you can go data hunting here.

This isn’t the case everywhere, however, and the geographer in me was pleased to see that the issue of location was brought up. It matters where bike share docking stations are located, and location can have an impact on the demographics of the users.

Of course, other factors such as price, access to credit cards, and I would argue, other deeper rooted social and cultural issues dictate who is likely (or not) to use a bike share. There isn’t equality in commuting, in general, in the U.S., so it comes as no surprise that this issue is similar for bike sharing systems, as well.

Nonetheless, these trends are changing. And with outreach in cities like New York, which is running public meetings and distributing helmets, the demographics will continue to change for bike sharing and bike commuting more broadly. Because as Caroline Samponaro at Transportation Alternatives in NYC mentioned to Morning Edition, people are saying how much using a bike share improved their commute and brought them some joy and fitness, and she “thinks those things shouldn’t be luxury items.”

So check out the bike share story on NPR here, and follow the series on commuting at #NPRcommute. And go ahead and share how awesome your bike commute is with them!

Meanwhile, I don’t see much bike sharing in my near future, but I like the idea of it anyhow!


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19 thoughts on “The Daily Commute & Bike Sharing on NPR”

  1. B says:

    I don’t look forward to my commute to work. For me, it’s the better alternative than driving but I think “inescapable necessity” sums it up pretty well.

    1. Proven wrong already! Hm, do you enjoy your commute? I am thinking enjoyment doesn’t equate to looking forward to something…but could be wrong there too.

  2. Not surprised either than the average bike share user is white and middle class. If bike commuting were only an matter of economizing I would just buy a bike. I haven’t joined Phx’s bike share program yet, although I like the fact that we now have them.

    I often write about the personal economics of bike commuting because it has saved us a good deal of money and parking is just never an issue I think about. Someone at a recent forum on bike commuting at ASU asked about provisions to make bike share available to the poor and homeless. The question was met with mostly silence and I don’t really see anything coming that will directly benefit this group. However, the infrastructure that will come with bike share I believe will benefit everyone, regardless of income (or lack thereof). I don’t know that I’ll ever use it much myself but I support its implementation for the side benefits; if it get a few more people interested in thinking about biking instead of hopping in a car or provides an additional fun experience for tourists that would be great.

    1. Yes, the homeless are often overlooked in these conversations. Places like BICAS in Tucson have some great programs to help low-income and homeless people get their own bikes through work trade programs, but these opportunities are few and far between.

  3. listenermark says:

    My home town recently rolled out a bike share program. The gleaming racks of lipstick red bikes makes me smile every time I discover another stand. But, I will never use one. Why would I? I have a nice bike (or seven) at home. The program is just not aimed at me. Like most of you, I am a bike nerd. The idea of trading my sweet sweet ride for a fifty pound cruiser covered with corporate logos does not appeal. That said, I am solid supporter of the programs and genuinely hope they succeed.

  4. plh says:

    I look forward to my bike commute in a more general way. This time of the year I have to remind myself, as I prepare to face rain or freezing temperatures, that most days are nice, and that I’m burnishing my hard-core cred.

  5. Joel says:

    From my now 28 months of multi-mode bicycle commuting, owning a commuter bicycle requires financial resources that the homeless will not have. I started out with very little investment but ongoing expenses can add up.

    For those who do not want to go through my long-winded itemized expenses, I will give you an executive synopsis: I have spent about $0.15 per mile on my bicycle. This figure includes clothing and accessories bought specifically for my commute. I do all of the mechanical repairs and improvements myself. This figure would increase dramatically should I need to pay for bicycle work. While this is far lower than the estimated $0.57 per mile (Triple A Car Club estimate) for a car, it is not free. A safe place must also be found to store (park) the bike which the homeless rarely have. Bicycle commuting is not without costs which the homeless have little resources to address. The best solution is to get bike sharing resources to the homeless shelters that directly administer and deal with the homeless.

    I commute about 3000 miles per year to the bus station where I park my bicycle. I started this commute in September, 2011.

    The first month required no purchases. I had an old mountain bicycle purchased ten years previously for about $80.00. I was not new to bicycle riding so I had a decent quality bicycle aircraft cable and lock ($35.00), helmet ($30), and back pack ($45.00). I went over my bicycle checking the wheels, tires, brakes, shifters, chain, and crank. Most bicycle shops would charge at least one hour of labor (very reasonable amount of time).

    A quick addition of these “basics” tallies around $200 for my daytime beginners package.

    Many arguments could be made for buying a much more expensive bicycle which will lower future maintenance and expenses. I acknowledge that I would have preferred to buy a better bicycle to eliminate many of the upgrades but such a bicycle would be at a very high risk of being stolen left at the bike rack for nine hours per day. This is a factor that the homeless must face everyday.

    As my ride progressed into dusk at night, I needed to add a minimum light set from Bell to meet New Jersey legal standards (besides personal preservation) at a cost of $28 plus $5 for long lasting batteries. These lights were strictly to be seen by motorists but were close to useless for providing adequate light for riding in rural areas. I added a personal small flashlight (already in my possession) with Velcro straps for slow speed riding in the dark ($20 plus $4 of batteries very two weeks). I purchased rechargeable batteries (and charger) for $30 but the homeless will not have a reliable outlet (and secure outlet) to use rechargeable batteries adding to the original costs. A reflector vest is a must to any commuter, especially at night and can be purchased on sale for about $15. To ride at night, it is going to cost about $50 plus batteries. Again, I was not satisfied with the amount of light available for my commute but it was minimally adequate.

    I survived my first winter by not riding on rainy days, snow days, and packing on many layers. I wanted to keep my investments minimal. I figured I was riding thirteen out of twenty commuting days per month.

    I required a new freewheel during this time. I am a Prime member at Amazon so shipping on many items is free for me. The homeless will not have this option and most probably will pay more than what I quote. I replaced the freewheel ($13) and chain ($12). This repair needed a one time purchase of a tool for freewheel removal ($15) which I will use in the future. The homeless will not have a place to store these tools let alone have the other expensive tools I already have.

    My time is limited to post more but I think everyone gets the message. Bicycle ownership is not cheap and additional costs are associated with bicycle sharing. Homeless people cannot afford to own a bicycle and bicycle sharing will only be afforded to them if it is subsidized. We as a society must make a decision about this subsidy. The numbers must be crunched hard to arrive at the “true” cost and this analysis must be made by a person with experience in the real world. Far too often, extremely far-fetched and optimistic numbers are thrown out by agencies, politicians, and lobbying groups with agendas.

    I believe that bicycles can be a huge advantage to the homeless but the bike share should administered by local homeless shelters who can address the storage, maintenance, and usage in a manner consistent with the needs of the homeless.

    This is where local bicycle clubs and college bicycle students can really shine. We can teach a few homeless people to repair and maintain bicycles. We can donate old bicycles in good condition. Many homeless people are extremely skilled craftsmen who have fallen on difficult times and situations in their lives. They lack tools and repair equipment. This is a situation where we cannot just “teach them how to fish” because there are no fish in the lake. We must provide the fish to encourage them to fish until the lake is pollution free.

    Sorry about the long winded dissertation, I know that everyone in this great country wants to help but they get cynical with the money that is often wasted administrating the fixes to the problem. I believe that if bike sharing is going to help the homeless and poor, we must get the resources to the people who are best equipped to efficiently administer the resources.

  6. Joel says:

    Second post,

    I now ride year round in all kinds of weather because I have the right equipment and experience. I like to ride my bicycle.

    Give my admiration to all of the riders who do not actually enjoy riding bicycles but do so for other reasons. We all do things we do not enjoy because it is good for us, others, or our world in general. I salute you.

  7. Jonathan McDuffie says:

    Detroit of all places might have some stuff germane to your discussion. I’m an old bikie from the 70s who just happens to be black, middle class and have lived around the Cass Corridor all of my adult life. I have seen the issue from sort of a “both sides now” perspective (Thanks, Joni) and though I don’t bike much anymore (retired), I commuted 2miles one-way to Wayne State U. by bike or foot everyday from 1974-79, weather notwithstanding. I’m still interested in bikes or I wouldn’t be here, I suppose.

    So that’s about me. My point is about this, which I find heartening:

  8. B says:

    I guess that is a bit of a distinction. I enjoy bike commuting more than car commuting. That being said, riding a bike through city streets isn’t that enjoyable to me but is far better than the alternative.

  9. Jeff Gardner says:

    Cities should fund and maintain a bike shop for homeless people. This could be easily funded with a $25 or $50 tax per year on rich people’s transport. To a homeless person, that means anyone with an auto. To augment that rich funding source, businesses could be charged double. Passed on to customers, the cost wouldn’t ever be noticed.

    Homelessness needs its own shop because of homeless unique needs. For instance, bikes would all have to have good locks, good lighting systems, and panniers front and rear. Homeless people would use bikes as a workhorse transport – groceries, clothes, whatever inclement weather protection they have or that can be checked out from the bike shop.

    Homelessness becoming endemic, such a central bike facility, its infrastructure, maintenance and supplies, should be a part of nearly every American city. In fact, I can’t think of a single city that does not have a homeless person.

  10. Doug says:

    I’m an American living abroad in Lima, Peru, and I live 3.5 miles from my job location. Public transportation is ultra cheap and ubiquitous. I can take a bus (40 cents), an elevated train (60 cents), or a taxi ($5) to work. However, I choose to ride my bike instead.

    Part of the decision was influenced by the time-cost benefit. The bus takes 45 minutes, the train 35, and a taxi 15. I can ride it in 20 minutes. So, though I can get there faster in a taxi, saving a few bucks each way is worth 5 minutes of my time.

    Part of the decision was to get to know the surrounding neighborhoods. Biking is the only option that truly allows for that.

    But most of the decision was made because of how great I feel when I bike. When I arrive at my destination, I’m pumped up and ready to go! Plus, I’ll admit, I like the excitement that comes from successfully navigating city traffic.

    (btw, though traffic here seems crazy to Americans, I feel way safer riding my bike here than in the States. There is rarely any distracted driving and bike rage is not contracted by drivers.)

    There are bike sharing programs here too. But I’ll echo the sentiment already mentioned by a couple of people: bike share programs are awesome but I’ll probably never use one, except on vacation when I don’t have access to my personal equipment.

  11. Jesse Minor says:

    Frankly, I found the NPR story simultaneously disappointing and interesting. The story was interesting because of the discussion about “underbanked” people who cannot use the system.

    I found the NPR piece disappointing because bike share isn’t, in my opinion, the best way to tackle or even to discuss bike commuting. What bike share does efficiently is to supplement other modes of travel (public transportation, cabs, private autos, etc) and to promote short-distance trips in dense environments.

    In my view, NPR didn’t get anything wrong, it just ran a sort of weird story about a form of bicycling that the majority of bike-riding people in the US don’t have access to.

  12. BluesCat says:

    For the last two months, job duties have forced me to commute by car almost every single day. This has served to drive me a little bonkers, and demonstrates (at least to ME) how much I rely on commuting by bike for my physical AND mental AND spiritual health. My time on the bike is the ONLY time I have all to myself; and is what I need to stay sane.

    Rather than sleeping in on the weekends, I’ve taken to getting up at my regular workweek time and hopping on the bike to go get some coffee and breakfast. That helps, but it isn’t nearly as healing as the 50 minute ride into work.

    The bike share programs might be more successful if they would expand their range of services. Instead of just providing Rent-A-Bikes, they should have a selection of tools tethered to a post so that bicyclists could change flats, adjust their brakes and derailleurs, etc. And they might look into providing secure bike parking and even lockers and showers for a price.

  13. Kevin Love says:

    BluesCat wrote:

    “…they should have a selection of tools tethered to a post so that bicyclists could change flats, adjust their brakes and derailleurs, etc.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Or perhaps the cyclists could get decent bikes with puncture-resistant tires, internal hub gears and brakes, etc. Bikes that do not need tools or maintenance.

    My Pashley Roadster Sovereign came with all that and more as factory standard equipment. So do other major brands like Gazelle and Batavus.

    The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires that came as factory standard equipment on my bike have never had a puncture. Never, ever. I love them!

    There are even bargain brands like the Beater Bike. Or Worksman Cycles, made in the USA. Check out their “Dutchie Lite” at:

  14. Woodie Comer says:

    I can empathize with you BluesCat. My right knee went out on me on October 26. After weeks on crutches, orthopedic visits, and physical therapy, I’m still unable to bike as I used to. A shopping center less than 2 kilometers away where I could bike to the establishments located there is now out of reach due to several steep hills on the route. I am able to do some limited biking on relatively flat areas around the neighborhood. This is frustrating as I really like varying my route and climbing the hilly areas to help maintain physical fitness.

    I’ve also not used a bike sharing program. Birmingham is giving studying starting such a program, and I would give serious thought to using it whenever I would go downtown. My daughter lives in DC and I have scoped out the bikes they have there, and observed many of them used on the streets.

    Meantime, we can continue to bike as much as possible and push for a transportation system that is more oriented to a variety of methods and is less automobile centric.

  15. Jame says:

    My region added bike share not long ago but it isn’t convenient to anywhere I go. It is in downtown SF, and when I visit I take transit. It is in Peninsula cities but not the one I work. It isn’t in Oakland or anywhere in my side of the bay, and I wonder with the limited scope they are missing opportunity.

    I currently drive to work and have pondered a transit commute. My commute is 30 miles each way. But the problem is my office is 5 miles from the BART. it is closer to Caltrain, the peninsula commuter rail, but the schedule is infrequent and not very user friendly. If there was bike share I’d take it and drop off the bike near my downtown office.

    If I were to bring my own bike, there is quite high risk of trains not having room for it, and my building has no bike parking.

    It is a great way to augment a trip or cover the last mile. And al alternative when you don’t want to use your own bike, especially across multiple modes.

  16. Chunk says:

    I know this observation is a bit off topic but I love you mentioning the commuter demographic. “…what NPR found out isn’t terribly surprising – white, middle to high income men tend to be the most common demographic for bike share users. This just about parallels the bike commuting demographic in general.”

    Also not terribly surprising, this is the same demographic who is driving the purchase of hybrid/electric cars.

  17. Thrawn says:

    Brisbane has a bike-share system now, but only around the CBD. Which is not all that useful; with so many cars and pedestrians around, it’s not a lot faster than walking.

    However, I did discover a side benefit during my cycle this morning: my usual route now has a bike lane through an intersection where previously I had to give way to lots of cars :).

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