Bike share programs increase access to and use of bicycles by deploying docking stations throughout a city, enabling individuals to make one way bike trips for minimal fees. Such interventions can increase cycling but also walking and transit use, as they help provide efficient connections to and from transit networks, and increase time competitiveness of sustainable modes compared with personal motor vehicles. The systems use adjustable “city-style” bikes, which are easy to ride for people of all abilities.
Public bike share programs remove certain barriers related to bicycle ownership, including concern for theft or vandalism, lack of parking or storage, and maintenance requirements. The programs are becoming common in urban centres, and increasingly massive in scope. Canada is joining this global trend: the first public bike share began in Montreal in 2009 (now with 6200 bikes), and programs were launched in 2014 in Toronto (2000 bikes) and in 2016 in Vancouver (1200 bikes).
Vancouver bike share
A unique aspect of the Vancouver bike share program is that the province has an all-ages helmet law that applies to cycling on roads and the city has a bylaw requiring helmets on most off-road paths. The bike share system includes a helmet with every bike. Other large Canadian bike share systems are in provinces that do not legislate helmet use at all (Quebec) or for adults (Ontario) and helmets are not provided. Helmet legislation has been debated as a barrier to uptake of cycling and is seen as a potential threat to the success of bike share programs.
We are taking advantage of the launch of the Vancouver bike share program to examine its impact on travel and health outcomes in the general population, in users of the program, and within key populations. We have the following objectives:
- to estimate the impact of public bike share on changes in physical activity and mode of transportation at a population-level
- to determine who uses the bike share program and its impact on their individual health and modes of transportation
- to characterize barriers to the adoption of the bike share program across socio-demographic groups.
Population survey, pre-implementation
A telephone survey of 901 Vancouver residents prior to the launch of Vancouver’s public bike share program showed that a majority (69%) thought it is a good idea for the city, though only 24% said they were likely to use it. The survey indicated that the most important factors influencing Vancouverites’ likelihood of using the program were a connected network of protected cycle routes and good weather.
In contrast, a content analysis of news media indicated that the helmet law was reported as the likely leading barrier to bike share success in Vancouver. In both the opinion survey and an observation study, we found that helmets are frequently used (on 75-80% of cycling trips), but about 57% of cyclists reported not using helmets on at least some trips. Lack of access to a helmet and discomfort were the primary reasons for non-use.
The survey data were used to predict who would be leaders in using bike share. They were: 1) individuals who currently use transit, walk, and car share, 2) post-secondary students and 3) individuals who currently don’t cycle for transportation but who would consider it. These findings can help to inform planning, implementation and promotion of a bike share system in this city and others like it.
Bike share member survey
A survey of 1759 of annual and monthly members of the Vancouver bike share system was conducted in November 2016 after the initial summer and fall of the program. They reported on 4751 bike share trips, and indicated that 46% of trips replaced a walking trip, 29% a transit trip, 16% a car trip, and 7% a personal bike trip. Most trips were combined with another mode of travel.
Helmet use observations
Observations were made on fair weather days in 2016 at five screen-line sites and at 15 public bike share docking stations. Observers recorded helmet use, gender, bike facility type, and time of travel of 10,704 people riding personal bikes and 397 riding bike share bikes. Overall, the prevalence of helmet use was 78.1% (n=8,670/11,101), significantly higher for personal bike riders (78.6%) than bike share users (64.0%). Helmet use was more common among women, at weekday morning commute times, and on on-street bike facilities.
- Identifying the leaders: Applying diffusion of innovation theory to use of a public bike share system in Vancouver, BC. Therrien S, Brauer M, Fuller D, Gauvin L, Teschke K, Winters M.Transportation Research Board 2014 [article]
- Facilitators and barriers to public bike share adoption and success in a city with compulsory helmet legislation: A mixed-methods approach. Zanotto M. [SFU Thesis]
- Helmet use among personal bicycle riders and bike share users in Vancouver, BC. Zanotto M, Winters M. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2017 [abstract]
- Assessing the modal impacts of public bikeshare systems: A comparison of survey tools. Hosford K, Fuller D, Gauvin L, Brauer M, Teschke K, Winters M. International Society of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity 2017 Annual Meeting, Victoria. June 2017 [poster]