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This is a great article on The Conversation regarding bikeshare schemes and their pricing mechanisms. This piece is published by academics based in the USA. It is interesting to note the confusion and difficulties faced by both the users and operators of the bikeshare pricing policy.

Bikeshare pricing could slow trend’s rapid expansion

By Matthew Christensen, University of California, Berkeley and Susan Shaheen, University of California, Berkeley

Bikesharing has boomed in Europe and North America in recent years following decades of slow growth since its introduction on the streets of Amsterdam in 1965.

Like any industry undergoing rapid expansion, it is experiencing growing pains. Specifically, it’s the confusing pricing structure that has recently taken the heat.

The pricing system, dubbed the “buffet model,” allows riders to take as many bike trips as they want for a flat initial fee for a designated period of time, as long as each trek does not exceed 30 minutes in length (the time limit can vary from city to city). Trips that last longer than the limit accrue overage fees at rates ranging from US$1 to US$7 per half hour.

Amsterdam was the first city to launch a bikesharing program back in 1965.
Shutterstock

Dependence on casual users and overages

The model, first implemented by Velo’v in Lyon, France, in 2005, was designed to encourage the short-term use of bicycles, according to the Bike-sharing Blog. While it has been relatively effective at keeping trips short, it has also created confusion among users and difficulties for operators.

In North America, casual users who purchase a 24-hour pass often believe they are free to use the shared bicycle as much as they want for the entire period. As a result, many have racked up overages that can total more than US$100 per day.

This, coupled with the proportionally low revenue generated by annual users, has made bikesharing operators increasingly dependent on casual users to remain financially viable. Annual members, who typically make up a majority of the riders, pay a commensurately lower rate per trip and incur fewer overages per user, and thereby generate considerably less revenue than casual users. Research by the University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) has found that while casual users normally account for less than half of a system’s total use, they can bring in as much as 67% of a bikesharing system’s revenue.

Lyon’s Velo’v is one of the largest bikesharing programs, and the first to implement the buffet pricing model.
Shutterstock

The percent of revenue coming specifically from overages remains unclear for most programs. But The New York Post recently reported that Citi Bike has accrued US$4 million in revenue from such overages since the program’s inception in May 2013. On the other hand, the Post did not report how much those overages actually cost the operator, such as staff time spent fielding customer calls and processing reimbursement. The paper also did not tally any losses resulting from dissatisfied customers whose negative experience would discourage them from renting again.

Alternative ways to price bikesharing

These problems have led some cities to explore alternative pricing models that are more intuitive and could potentially relieve casual users from paying some of the additional fees.

While some programs have secured public funding or major system sponsors to facilitate equitable growth and maintain financial stability, DecoBike in Miami Beach managed to secure private funding and has operated an economically sustainable bikesharing program since 2011. Its pricing structure requires that casual users purchase a finite pool of bike usage time – 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, and so on. This time can be used all at once or spread out over multiple trips.

The buffet model is represented here on a Bay Area Bike Share kiosk in San Francisco.

 

Similarly, programs featuring Social Bicycles equipment in Hamilton, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York are also offering users, both annual and casual, finite pools of daily riding time. This pricing structure will probably be implemented in Orlando, Tampa, Phoenix, and Atlanta, which are all expected to feature Social Bicycles’ equipment.

These pricing structures are more intuitive for first-time users but lead to other challenges for operators and cities. In some cases, they encourage riders to use bikes for longer durations (for instance, one hour or more), decreasing the turnover rate and limiting the total number available at any given moment.

They also cause the system to function more as an automated bike rental system than a way to navigate between destinations and transportation modes. This may deviate from what the city or local government initially intended when launching its bikesharing program. Furthermore, this pricing model may also infringe upon established bike rental companies, which rely on tourists who tend to rent bikes for extended trips.

The pay-per-trip option

Another alternative would be to include a pay-per-trip option, similar to how buses and subways operate. For example, a user could purchase a one-way bikesharing pass for US$1 or US$2. Rather than replacing the dominant buffet model, this idea could simply augment it to capture a larger number of users.

It would also likely strengthen bikesharing’s role as a mode of public transport and a first/last mile solution, seamlessly integrating it into the system through a joint fare card or smartphone access point. While this option has been proposed in cities like Chicago, and it has been discussed by Paul DeMaio and others, Broward B-cycle is the only operator that we are aware of that offers a pay-per-trip option in North America.

As for the buffet model, it is important to note that its problems may disappear as people get used to the structure. In a TSRC survey of Bay Area Bike Share casual users, 100% of those who had previously used a bikesharing system understood the pricing structure.

But with so many casual users presumably being first- or one-time users, does it make good business sense to operate with a pricing structure that at least half the customers may not understand? Perhaps the solution will come in the way of altering how the information is being displayed, which has recently been done by several programs, including Citi Bike and Hubway.

However, as companies like Social Bicycles launch programs with a different approach, the future of the buffet model remains questionable, and bikesharing’s pricing structure will likely evolve to become standardized as the industry continues to grow and mature.

This article has been amended to remove reference to a TSRC survey that hasn’t been published yet.

The Conversation

Both Matthew Christensen and Susan Shaheen receive funding from the Federal Highway Administration. Professor Shaheen also receives bikesharing research funding from the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Susan Shaheen receives funding from the Federal Highway Administration and the Mineta Transportation institute.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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I recently read an interesting piece on The Conversation which was written by two academics, Steven Fleming and Angelina Russo. They make the case for a new utopian dream. What are your thoughts?

Utopia: seriously, good urban planning should aspire to it

By Steven Fleming, University of Tasmania and Angelina Russo, University of Canberra

The Australian television satire Utopia invited the public along for a laugh that architects and planners have been sharing for decades. We laugh at the idea of utopia to disassociate ourselves from the disasters brought on by utopian visions.

Le Corbusier’s is perhaps the most famous. He dreamt of people living in racks of council flats rather than old building stock on the ground.

The only architects who have not gotten too savvy to dream of utopias are men in their nineties who missed the change in public opinion.

Jacque Fresco hopes one day that machines will build mega-structures while we humans relax. Paolo Soleri’s hyper-dense prototype, Arcosanti, remains permanently stalled with 97% of the work incomplete.

These examples are goofy-faced totems for a demon that we actually fear. Serious architectural writers bring up examples like Albert Speer’s plan for Berlin and concentration camps.

Karl Popper cemented the association between utopianism and totalitarianism. Writing in 1957 after making a name for himself as a critic of Marxist epistemology, he said social engineering (especially of the Marxist variety) was despotic, delusional and — you guessed it – utopian. The word has had Orwellian overtones ever since.

Our urban landscapes have utopian pedigrees

That’s fair enough if we’re talking about religious or ideological utopian visions. Urban planning is different. It depends on utopian visions as touchstones. Urban planners need to be granted a unique dispensation and allowed to talk in utopian strains.

One reason was explained by architectural writers David Gosling and Barry Maitland. While acknowledging Popper’s concerns, they argued that utopian visions in urban design are catalytic – never mind the handful of fools who treat them as prescriptions. Utopian visions bring clarity to real-world debates, they argued, “by postulating alternative hypotheses in a pure and crystalline form”.

Another theorist, Françoise Choay, argues the enterprise we call urbanism would not exist without utopian models. All urban theories, she says, have been indelibly stamped by past utopian models.

Surely that can’t be true of urban theories today, when architects and urban planners laugh at a show called Utopia? It is undeniably true. Current urban theories have utopian pedigrees, some now 100 years old.

We see the mark of Ebenezer Howard’s utopian
Wikimedia Commons

Take the principle of consolidating development within walking distance of train stations: it has been indelibly stamped by Ebeneza Howard’s circular diagram for transit-based “garden cities”.

Less flatteringly, our permissiveness of ongoing sprawl betrays the indelible stamp of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City. Wright thought the natural outworking of personal mobility machines (cars) was that every person should get enough land of their own to pretend they are farmers.

Most embarrassing of all are our inner-city apartments. Built over batteries of multi-storey car parking, and beside roads that look like great venues for Formula One racing, most bear the indelible stamp of the General Motors “Highways and Horizons” pavilion with its Futurama exhibition at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

Rarely these days are utopian visions rolled out all at once. They are more typically in the background, like the rules of a game, informing piecemeal implementation.

Many of us will have had firsthand experience with one, the Broadacre game, if ever we have built a house on a large block of land. We would have asked ourselves how the car could be parked between the kitchen and road, and what travel times (never mind distances) that road could promise to roadside amenities.

Velotopia: a new vision

Author/Cycle Space, Author provided

As two authors who choose to rely on our bikes for most of our transport, it bothers us that the rules of our game are not well understood. When we choose where to live, shop, work or send our children to school, we don’t care so much about walking distances, the frequency of public transport or congestion on roads. We want to know where the cycleways are.

Cycleways tend to follow historic rail easements and waterways. This means that as cyclists our cognitive maps of most cities are dominated by the flatlands on the wrong side of the tracks that these cycleways often pass through. Ironically, it is often these very flatlands that, in time, become the new sites for “starchitect” development.

We want to offer a new utopian dream. It is not borne of signature buildings but rather built on a bicycle-oriented lifestyle and informed by a utopian dream we call Velotopia.

In its crystalline form, Velotopia uses pedal power for virtually everything, even taxis and freight — a trend in European town centres already. In this utopia, cyclists cover 10-kilometre trips in 30 minutes of safe and social bliss. There to meet them at both ends are secure and convenient bike-parking facilities inside most buildings; our bikes are as welcome as wheelchairs or prams.

We’re not asking that the rules of our game obliterate those of car lovers, walkers or straphangers. We’re simply following the conventions of our disciplines to imagine that our cities could accommodate an extra utopian dream, one that creates a safe cycling space. Put like that, it is a remarkably simple and profoundly utilitarian ask.

Our work is to bring Velotopia into plain view, as a catalytic vision. Some of our ideas for bike-access building types and ground planes designed to prioritise cycling will be on display in the Queensland Museum in Brisbane from November 28, 2014, to June 2015, as part of the National Museum of Australia’s Freewheeling exhibition. In late November we will meet policymakers in Brisbane to explore the principles of Velotopia as a catalyst for bicycle-orientated development.

As Velotopia becomes visible, we envisage a safer and more enjoyable cycling space, which can take its place among other utopias that influence the structure and spaces of our cities.

The Conversation

Steven Fleming is a member of the Reference & Experts Panel of the Australian Cyclists Party

Angelina Russo has received funding from the Australia Research Council. She is an invited member of the Reference & Expert Panel of the newly formed Australian Cyclist Party.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.