The Future of Bike Share

By Andy Boenau, AICP, Principal, Mobility-as-a-Service Lead, STANTEC


It’s electric!

Electric bikes (e-bikes) will transform urban and suburban transportation. With a little bit of pedaling, you get up to 20 mph. These mobility marvels come with a hefty price tag to purchase outright. But dockless electric bike share is rolling across the country at price points comparable to standard pedal bikes.

From an urban planning perspective, e-bikes are appealing to a diverse group of people who would otherwise not get on a bicycle. Bike advocates often refer to the “interested but concerned” population who would use bicycles for transportation if some barriers were removed. E-bikes are appealing to people who haven’t ridden in years, or who feel out of shape. It’s not the same level of exercise as a traditional pedal bike, but it is replacing a car trip. 

From a business point of view, e-bikes are appealing for similar reasons. A significant percentage of the population who took a hard pass on trying bike share are now potential customers. E-bike share will play an important role in the retrofitting of suburbia, connecting land uses previously considered “not bikeable.”

Don’t fall for “e-bikes are cheating” claim. Electrified fleets will get more butts on bikes.

Scooters vs. Bikes

The bicycle is the most efficient form of transportation on the planet. It is powered by humans, and humans merely require food and water to refuel. No electric device will ever replace the traditional bicycle. And as long as there is a demand for bicycling in urbanized areas, there will be a demand for shared fleets of bicycles.

There is growing debate among cycling advocates as to whether e-scooters are friend or foe. It’s true that standing on a platform that zips along at 15 mph doesn’t burn the same calories as pedaling a lightweight machine. However, access to e-scooters does encourage people to leave their car parked and walk more.

Common ground among advocates of bike share, active lifestyles, sustainability, and urban planning is this: reduce single occupant vehicles. The extent of the impact on bike share remains to be seen, but e-scooters are a welcome addition to the shared mobility world.

Mobility-as-a-Service

MaaS is on-demand transportation that combines trip and route planning, vehicle type, and payment collection. MaaS focuses on the customer by simplifying and streamlining trips. Households will reduce the number of owned vehicles because of the ease of use and cost savings of fleet-based transport. 

Netflix famously recognized the developing subscription culture. They offered increased access, convenience, and affordability while removing the burdens of ownership. Movies as a Service. Mobility operations built on historic ownership trends will become the Blockbuster Videos of the transportation industry.

Mobility will soon be integrated with other X-as-a-Service options like groceries, clothing, pet care, gaming, education, and cleaning. MaaS will be transformational to 21st century society and is the subject of my next book.

Most of the speculation on MaaS has been siloed by mode. The benefits and impacts of MaaS should be explored in light of every form of travel simultaneously. Customers need choice, so explore all the potential travel options in a MaaS ecosystem.

Bike share will appear as an option on MaaS apps used around the world. The app will show route options, available vehicle types (public and private), congestion, weather, and more. Bicycles (especially shared e-bikes) will be one of the first modes integrated with MaaS platforms. This shift has already begun. Uber and Lyft already show bikes in their apps.

What I know and what I don’t know


I know exactly what the future holds.

  1. The subscription model is the future of transportation. Much like movies on demand, mobility on demand will be a convenient and cost-effective way to release the burden of car ownership. Bike share will play a major role in the transition from personally-owned to fleet vehicles.
  2. Electric bikes will flourish. Pedal-assist bike share will draw huge numbers of people who would otherwise stay in a car. Planners will ignore the “e-bikes are cheating” opposition and promote electrified bike share.
  3. Bicycles will outlive all other micromobility options. I like e-scooters in the sense that I like garlic. Each has its good application, and neither will be ubiquitous. Bikes, on the other hand, should be welcomed in every urbanized environment for their versatility and ease of use. Bikes are bacon.

I have no idea what the future holds.

  1. Walled garden bike share will continue to struggle, and it’s difficult to predict how many “bikes only” systems will survive in the subscription era. Smart money invests in customer-focused business models, and that means modal choice. Few companies will be able to scale a business that offers scooters, bikes, cars, buses, flying pods, and whatever else is coming.
  2. Humans are not rational decision makers, so drumming up support for active transportation can’t be predicted on academic research. Two people can be presented with identical data and draw opposing conclusions. (That’s why every election cycle is a theatrical spectacle.) Don’t wait for someone else to champion bike share in your community. Be the hero, with or without the accolades.
  3. Autonomous vehicle technology will transform the first/last-mile conversation by making transit accessible to sprawled out suburban developments. The buses themselves could be made up of modular pods, connecting to each other as they move closer to employment centers and densely populated areas. The big question is When, and obviously all I can say is Soon.

Interested in learning more about the role of bikes in urban mobility? Check out these UMDaily articles:

Big problems, micro solutions: electric cargo bikes to the rescue

Bike-sharing on steroids

Learning lessons From Vélib’ Métropole Difficulties

Andy Boenau wants you to experience the freedom of mobility. He’s an author, speaker, and consultant using transport planning and emerging technology to help people enjoy happier, healthier lives. Andy is a Principal with Stantec, leading their global Mobility-as-a-Service practice.

This post was adapted from Bike Share: Site planning, business models, ridership, and regulations of the most misunderstood form of modern transportation. Available for download: http://bit.ly/BikeShareBook