Is electric bikeshare the future?

Posted by Rachel Karitis on 2/23/18 1:25 PM

As dockless bikeshare companies have come flocking to major cities in increasingly large droves, the transit world started buzzing — what does this mean? Should traditional bikeshare systems be worried? Is bikeshare the future of transportation? Will we all become as into biking to work and errands as people in Copenhagen are?

Things have cooled down now, at least in DC (in part because it has quite literally cooled down, and fewer people ride bikes here in the winter), and that's given us a chance to reflect on the different available options. Many offer a similar formula — ofo, LimeBike, Spin, and Mobike all offer relatively cheaply designed, dockless bikes for $1/30 minutes.

The real gamechanger, though, was the introduction of Jump bikes. Though they are more expensive than the others ($2/30 minutes), the price is comparable to that of the city's Capital Bikeshare one-ride, non-member rate. The real difference? They're electric.

Man riding JUMP Bike down street

Electric bikesharing is not a new phenomenon. Madrid introduced its BiciMAD system in 2014, and Copenhagen has experimented with them in the past. While it's been popular in Europe, cities in the US have been slow to adopt them. City bikeshare systems aren't profitable as-is, and electric bikes would be more expensive to produce.

However, electric bikes open a whole new realm of possibilities for increasing overall bikesharing usage. The average trip length for a Jump bike in DC is 3 miles, whereas the average trip length for Capital Bikeshare members is just 1.6 miles. Three miles will get you all the way from Georgetown to Columbia Heights, including up a formidable hill.

Electric bikes open up an entirely new market of potential users; there are riders who aren't always looking to exert a lot of physical effort. The ability to go farther with less effort but while not being stuck in traffic could finally make bikes a feasible alternative to calling a ride — something Uber seems to have noticed as well. In January 2018, the company announced a partnership with Jump Bikes in San Francisco to make it possible to sign up to use a bike directly in the Uber app.

So what's the ideal outcome here? It's not replacing all current bikes with electrified ones. There are still many users who enjoy the adrenaline boost and workout involved with a traditional bike. Some of the other dockless bikeshare companies have also begun to offer some electric models, as have docked systems such as the one in Baltimore.

As we've talked about, the New Mobility is about options. No transportation mode is applicable for every situation; people should be able to evaluate all the options and choose the one most suited for the individual journey.

So is electric bikeshare the future? It might be too soon to see it as a salvation for replacing some cars on the road, but we're certain to be seeing more of them down the line.

Topics: Mobility