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How Far Are You Willing to Walk for Bike-Sharing?

By Jiri Kaloc

A new study looked at how far people are willing to walk to use a bike-sharing service. It was discovered that even a relatively short walk to find the nearest bicycle is enough to deter many. Let’s take a look at what the optimal distance is and how to make improvements based on that.

Bike-sharing is gaining popularity, but for it to really take off, it needs to be convenient to most people that would consider using it. That doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. “If a docking station is more than two or three blocks away, they just won’t go there,” said Karan Girotra, professor of operations, technology and innovation at Cornell Tech and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. “And if they encounter a station without bikes, it’s very unlikely they will go to the next station.”

© frederic REGLAIN / Alamy / Alamy / Profimedia

Analysis of Paris’ Vélib’ system

A research team from Cornell Tech led by prof. Girotra built a model to estimate how station proximity and bike availability influence bike-share operations. They gathered and analysed data from Paris’ Vélib’ system with roughly 17,000 bikes and 950 stations during four months of 2013, which included 4.4 million trips. They blended that information with data about population density in different city districts, metro ridership, attendance at top tourist destinations and weather conditions. The team also logged the locations of thousands of points of interest such as transit stations, parks, libraries, hotels, grocery stores, restaurants and cafes to isolate the influence of station proximity as much as possible.

300 metres away is too far

The model the researchers put together determined that someone roughly 300 m from a station is 60% less likely to use the bike-sharing service than someone right next to it. The chances that someone will use the service decrease with increasing distance and at around 500 m away it is highly unlikely that a person will consider using it.

Transport of Velib’s bicycles. © Profimedia, Photononstop

More bike-sharing stations are needed

The study concludes that decreasing walking distance has a much higher impact than increasing bike availability. Bike-share operators should prioritize building more stations closer to riders.

“Make bikes and stations more available,” Girotra said. “People don’t like walking to access a bike-share system.”

The authors recommend adding stations to locations where there are many points of interest. For example, they found that adding stations in areas closer to supermarkets provides more benefits than adding them closer to public transport infrastructure. And how about you? How far would you be willing to walk? Would you appreciate more docking stations for bike-sharing services?