As an investment in transportation infrastructure, bike share tends to be cheap. The cost of widening a highway by one lane for one mile can easily exceed the cost of implementing a jurisdiction-wide bike share program. And to its members, a bike share program also provides a cost-effective means of public transit. An annual membership to a bike share program can be as cheap as a monthly pass to a local bus and rail authority. But, among the biggest operational bike share programs in North America, who is most affordable to their population?
To find out, we had to do some math. We first determined the annual membership costs for each program in North America that has at least 275 bikes. Then we divided that cost by the average per capita income of a wage-earning resident in each program’s jurisdiction. We found that affordability varies by program and jurisdiction. At one end of the affordability spectrum is DecoBike Miami Beach, which has the highest annual member cost and the second highest per capita income. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Broward B-Cycle charges its annual members the least as a proportion of their per capita income and the least in real dollars.
Surprisingly, affordability of a bike share membership is not determined by who operates the program in all cases either. Taking a closer look at the data in the table below, we see that Alta Bicycle Share operates one of the least affordable programs, Chattanooga BTS, and one of the most affordable, Capital Bikeshare.
Even the most expensive bike share programs are dirt cheap in comparison to other forms of transportation. Car owners can spend close to 25% of their income on automobile costs annually. Coupled with the steep costs of expanding vehicle infrastructure, bike share systems seem to be made for the fiscally conscious. Of course, car trips do serve their purpose–people can move more stuff more quickly over longer distances. But short commuter trips are much more common. So why not take one’s time to enjoy the ride on a bike share bike instead?