With summer finally here, bike sharing systems like Nice Ride Minnesota and Boston’s Hubway are welcoming riders back for the 2015 season. For the bike sharing industry as a whole, however, there’s a lot more on the horizon than just warmer weather.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Important issues such as funding and equity are poised to come to the forefront this year as the industry continues to grow and evolve. While the outlook seems to be mostly sunny from our vantage point, here are five bike sharing trends—both promising and troubling—to watch in 2015:
1. P2P bike sharing reinvents itself
Peer-to-peer (P2P) bike sharing, which allows individuals to rent out their bikes when not in use, is an interesting concept that hasn’t quite caught on. Earlier this year, however, leading P2P provider Spinlister announced a new business model that will use P2P bike sharing as a way to help people finance the purchase of a new bike.
Spinlister and Dutch company Vanmoof will partner together to manufacture handsome, high-quality bikes—set to roll out in Portland late this summer—with built-in technology like Bluetooth-enabled locks that are specifically designed for use in P2P networks. Members can purchase the bikes from Spinlister and then pay for them over time using rental revenue.
2. The big get bigger
The country’s biggest bike sharing systems, including Citi Bike in New York and Divvy in Chicago, have announced plans for major expansion over the next several years. Chicago is growing its system to 476 stations and 4,760 bikes. Citi Bike will add 90 new stations by the end of 2015, and expects to have more than 700 stations and 12,000 bikes by the end of 2017. On the west coast, a proposal was announced recently to expand Bay Area Bike Share tenfold, from 700 to 7,000 bikes. Additionally, small and mid-size cities like Seattle and Indianapolis are also growing successful bike sharing systems of their own.
3. Look mom, no docks
The industry has been closely following the progress of up-and-comer Social Bicycles, which is pioneering a new model of bike sharing that puts GPS technology directly in its bikes, rather than in smart docks or stations. With SoBi’s model, riders are free to park their bikes anywhere within a geo-fenced area using built-in locks. Other users can then find the bikes using a web-based app, similar to one-way carsharing.
The model requires much less infrastructure than traditional bike sharing systems, and the tech-enabled bikes can provide data on miles traveled, calories burned, CO2 reduced, and more. SoBi is currently operating in several North American cities including Phoenix, Orlando and Buffalo.
4. Funding issues continue
Despite the industry’s momentum, some cities have still struggled to adequately finance bike sharing. Most recently, the news about the dire financial straits of San Antonio Bike Share captured significant attention. As is common, the system’s bike sharing operations are run by a nonprofit while a private company services the bikes and stations. Unlike other systems, however, San Antonio Bike Share does not receive local government funding or have a corporate sponsor.
Many have observed that bike sharing seems to be caught in a gray area between public transportation and private industry, and have called for a better long-term funding solution. Recently, transportation advocates have sought to push the message that bike sharing is transit, and deserves to be publicly subsidized just like trains, buses and any other form of public transportation.
5. Increased focus on equity
Analysis of a recent member survey by Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare revealed that half of survey respondents reported an annual income of $100,000 or more. The story further underscored criticism that bike sharing has largely failed to reach low-income residents. Fortunately, it looks like the industry will be making some major headway in addressing equity issues in 2015.
Philadelphia’s new Indego bike sharing program, which launched in late April, has an especially strong equity component. One third of the 600 bikes in the Indego system will be located in low-income neighborhoods, and all residents will have the option of paying with cash if they don’t have access to a credit card or bank account. Philadelphia will also be hiring specially trained neighborhood ambassadors to engage residents and show them how to use bike share.
Chicago recently launched a new Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program focused on increasing Divvy’s availability to low-income communities and unbanked residents. With help from a grant by the Better Bike Share Partnership, D4E will provide discounted annual memberships for qualified applicants. The program will also feature additional citywide outreach in partnership with several community organizations.
Addressing these remaining challenges is important because bike sharing has the ability to play a vital role in providing first/last mile solutions and boosting connectivity within transit systems, in addition to obvious environmental benefits.
Shared-Use Mobility Center is a public-interest partnership working to foster collaboration in shared mobility (including bike-sharing, car-sharing, ride-sharing and more) and help connect the growing industry with transit agencies, cities and communities across the nation.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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