Bikeshare systems: Recent research on their growth, users’ demographics and their health and societal impacts

Not even a decade ago, bikeshare was an afterthought in most cities’ transportation plans — if it was thought of at all. Early systems in the United States and Europe often had to use the honor system, and the results were predictably depressing. All that changed with the 2005 launch of Velo’v in Lyon, France. While it didn’t pioneer the use of purpose-built bikes, dedicated docking stations, smart cards, and a fee structure that encourages short-term rentals, it was one of the first to bring all these elements together, and at scale. The result was an embrace by residents, a significant presence in city life — and plenty of imitators.

Fast-forward 10 years, and there are more than 850 public bikeshare systems around the world, from Lansing, Mich., to New York City; from Melbourne, Australia, to Helsinki, Finland. While new-generation bikeshare systems aren’t immune to technical and economic difficulties — the world’s largest, in Wuhan, China, is being retooled after its rapid expansion overloaded the private operator — they appear to be a permanent part of how cities will work going forward. They’re a prominent component of the sharing economy, and have transformed how citizens and public officials think about personal mobility and urban design.

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