This article is republished from https://www.moneycrashers.com/.
Not everyone can be a regular bike commuter. Some folks live too far from work, some have erratic schedules, some would have to traverse dangerous roads or brave adverse weather conditions, and others – including yours truly – work out of a home office.
But even if you don’t bike to work, you can still bike regularly. In fact, it can be a singular source of pleasure – few things in life beat whooshing down a hill with the wind in your hair. Biking is also part of a healthy, happy lifestyle – according to the state government of Victoria, Australia, the benefits of regular biking include stronger bones, more flexible joints, lower stress and anxiety levels, lower body fat levels, and better cardiovascular fitness in general.
So, what if you enjoy biking but don’t own a bike? Depending on where you live, that might not be a problem. Many sizable cities now have bikesharing programs that offer affordable short-term rentals throughout a defined geographical area. These may be run by private companies, educational institutions, municipal agencies, or public-private partnerships.
The specific features and quirks of bikesharing programs vary from place to place, but the overarching goal is always the same: Provide a fun, healthy, low-cost transportation option for locals and visitors alike.
How Bike Share Programs Work
The first bikesharing programs began in 1960s Europe, but the concept didn’t take off worldwide until the mid-2000s. In North America, they tend to be affiliated with municipal governments, though some programs, particularly in small college towns, center on university campuses.
The typical bike share has several defining characteristics and features, including station-based bikes and payment systems, membership and pass fees, and per-hour usage fees. Programs are generally intuitive enough to facilitate a manageable learning curve for novice users. And, despite some variation, the differences are usually small enough to prevent confusion when a regular user of one city’s bike share uses another city’s program for the first time.
Bikes and Stations
Bikes and stations are the most important physical elements of any bike share program. The actual bikes are typically a standard size, color, and configuration. Colors are usually bright – the two-tone color scheme used by Nice Ride Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul’s program, is solid blue and grassy yellow-green. Branding is often prominent as well, with many programs prominently displaying the corporate logos of big sponsors on the frames.
The bikes themselves tend to be bulky (more than 40 pounds in some cases), with robust, high-set frames that look very different from typical road or mountain bike frames. In all, bike share bikes are usually difficult to mistake for regular bikes.
Meanwhile, stations are essentially high-tech bike racks with an adjacent payment kiosk. Each station has a number of docks (anywhere from 10 to 100 or more, depending on local traffic volumes) used to store and lock bikes. Some cities are moving toward dockless bikeshare, which is widely regarded as more user-friendly, but docked stations remain the default in the united states.
Depending on the system and your membership status, you either swipe a credit card or insert an electronic key (containing your credit card information) at the kiosk to unlock and take a bike. Incidentally, your credit card is also the system’s primary mode of theft deterrence – if you abscond with a bike, you’re likely to be charged for a replacement.
And replacement fees can be hefty – DecoBike, in San Diego and Miami, and Citi Bike, in New York City, both charge $800 once a bike is determined to be gone forever.
Usually, you don’t have to return a particular bike to a specific station. Regardless of where you got it, you can bring it to any station in the network, as long as there’s an available docking space. To maintain an even distribution of bikes across the system and ensure open docks at as many stations as possible, program employees move bikes between stations by truck or trailer.
By enabling effortless point-to-point riding, this encourages users to think of bike share as a legitimate transportation alternative – an efficient means of commuting, shopping, or visiting friends – rather than a mere recreational tool.
Membership and Usage Fees
Bike share programs generally have two different types of user fees – and you typically have to pay both. The first is a flat-fee membership (generally longer-term) or pass (generally shorter-term) that grants access to the program’s bikes for a specific period of time, and which you need to buy before you can start riding. The second is a usage fee based on the amount of time you actually spend on a bike. Usage fees are typically calculated in increments of 30 or 60 minutes.
Generally speaking, memberships are a better deal for people who use their local bike share program regularly, while passes are better for occasional users and out-of-town visitors. In exchange for a higher upfront fee, members enjoy lower usage fees each time they ride. For example, Capital Bikeshare, in Washington, D.C., charges $85 for an annual membership, while Nice Ride Minnesota charges $75.
The difference can be stark on longer rides. Capital Bikeshare charges members nothing for the first 30 minutes, $1.50 for the second 30 minutes, $3 for the third 30 minutes, and $6 for each additional 30 minutes. Nonmembers pay nothing for the first 30 minutes, $2 for the second 30 minutes, $4 for the third 30 minutes, and $8 for the fourth 30 minutes. These higher usage fees are offset by lower upfront costs – a daily Capital Bikeshare pass is $8, while a monthly pass runs $28.
Regardless of whether you’re a member or passholder, usage fees for many programs can rise rapidly (Capital Bikeshare’s fee structure isn’t unusual). On the other hand, as is the case with Capital Bikeshare, programs often waive usage fees for the first 30 (and, in some cases, 60) minutes of use. The idea is to encourage relatively short point-to-point trips and reduce aimless riding with the same bike.
Returning your bike to a station resets the clock on your ride, even if you immediately check out another bike from the same station. So if you want to bike for longer than the free period and don’t want to pay extra, you just need to keep an eye on the clock, familiarize yourself with nearby station locations, and pick up another bike before your free period ends. Once you return your bike, your credit card is charged for any time in excess of the free period.*Find out more information at https://www.moneycrashers.com/bike-sharing-best-bike-share-programs/.