A Look at Bike Share Programs and What We Can Learn from Them

Who would have thought that going green, you know, being more environmentally considerate, could be good for your business in the short term? Well that is exactly what you could get with advertisements on none other than a bike. If not there yet, than sure to come to a city near you is a bike share program that is quickly popping up in most large US cities. Coast to coast and north to south, many cities are adopting bike share programs to not only help keep down fuel emissions and gas cost but also to promote good health. While all of these reasons are great on a personal level, we can learn a lot from this program on a business level also.

Bay Area Bike Share launch in San Jose CA

Bay Area Bike Share launch in San Jose CA – Flickr: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

First started in The Netherlands (Amsterdam) in 1965 the project that had nothing but good intentions soon failed do to vandalism and stolen bikes. Like most things, as technology evolved so did bike sharing programs internationally. As a solution to the vandalism/theft problem, Portsmouth, UK, installed electronic bike racks in the 1990’s. In addition to the electronic racks were smart cards which for a small fee allowed a renter to access the bicycles without anonymity. If the bike came back damaged in any way or didn’t come back at all than the renter was charged a fee for the damaged property. The other component to the program that aided in its success was the installation of cameras that monitored the bike racks 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Once the program was proven to be a success with some minor changes, it was slowly but surely adopted all over the world. China, Australia and the US now have bike shares programs. In preparation for the 2012 DNC (Democratic National Convention) the city of Charlotte installed bike share racks all around downtown Charlotte, NC so that the millions of people that swarmed the city would have transportation options. So what can we learn from this program in terms of business?

The Bike Share Program is an Example of How We Can Think “Outside of the Box”

It was thinking outside of the parameters of what most would call the norm that made this program come into fruition. It is important that we not only consider what we know to be successful in business but also what we don’t know. Taking a risk can be nerve racking until you know the outcome, but usually is just what a business, new or old needs to either get off the ground or revamp and old idea.

Bike Share Program

Photo from Flickr user: donjd2

Giving Customers Options Increases Success

One of the reasons the bike share programs are so successful is because they offer an alternative to what a customer already has. Consumers like options; no one wants to feel like they have no choice. When you go to a clothing store there are usually blouses or shirts in several different colors. How does this translate, although you may drive your car downtown or take the bus, you now have an option to park and hop on a bike. This saves gas, which we all know can be taxing on a car owner’s pocket, cuts down on fuel emissions, which helps the environment so we can go green if only for a few hours, promotes good health and in addition to all of these reasons, it’s fun!

Look for New Opportunities to Increase Brand Awareness

I remember the first time I saw an advertisement for a talk show on the side of a bus. I thought it was loud, intrusive and didn’t like the fact that all of a sudden I was being bombarded by advertisements even on the ride home. But I have to admit, I watched that show and soon all of my family and friends were watching too. Every day when I saw that bus it was a constant reminder that at 6:00pm my new favorite show was on. It was impossible to forget to watch because the advertisement was always there. Just imagine your advertisement on a bike. Bicycles can go places buses can’t. Imagine how many people could see your advertisement on a bike trail on a Saturday that would never venture downtown for any number of reasons. The new exposure maybe just what your business needs to reach the next level of success or continue to be successful.


Photo from Flickr by: sillygwailo

Sometimes what is popular in the moment will like most things with time fade, but when we find something that is not only trending across the country but it will promote going green, aid promotions for a healthy lifestyle, and make you use your imagination and it is a great opportunity for marketing it becomes something to consider. So maybe you won’t market your company on the side of a bike, but by dissecting the bike share program that is being adopted across the country in cities such as New York, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Washington we see that there is always a new innovative way to market your brand.

What are some “out of the box” ideas your company has come up with? What are your thoughts on the bike share program? Have you seen it or participated?

43 thoughts on “A Look at Bike Share Programs and What We Can Learn from Them

  1. Hi Arleen. I really didn’t know how far reaching the bike sharing programs reached until your information. When the Hubway bike sharing system launched July 28, 2011 with 600 bicycles and 60 stations throughout Boston. I didn’t know what to think.but 2 years later it seems it has been a huge success. and It has also become another way for tourist and visitors to see the city.

    As far as taking risks and thinking outside the box, the brightest visionaries and innovators of our time have all had a unique ability to do this with great success in multimillion dollar companies from automotive to electronics. If it works for them how much more will the reward be for smaller businesses coming up with unconventional ideas, products and services that have the potential to really enhance their business brand as well as profitability. The risk is often worth the potential reward. Great article! 😉
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  2. Hey Arleen,

    I first heard about Bike sharing program when I was doing research for a paper in college (I think it was last year). I think the idea is brilliant. Not only will it help with avoiding further escalation in pollution, but also with controlling traffic and improving health 😀 A win-win situation, right?

    I have also heard about underground Bicycle-parking system in Japan (Encouraging people to ride bicycles is one thing, but we do need space to park these bikes, right?).

    All of these are out-of-boxes ideas. Ideas from which we could learn and perhaps implement in our own business.

    As for our question, I suppose I have come up with some out-of-box ideas – experiments that I conducted. Like studying the effect of sidebars on bounce rates, visitor length and that sort of thing 🙂

    I haven’t participated in any bike sharing programs, I would love to (Then again, I don’t live in a city, nor do I work. And going to college with a bicycle sounds dangerous; I have to go through highways. But, I would love to try it, if they had bicycle lanes here in Atlanta).

    Anyways, thank you for sharing your thoughts, Arleen 🙂 Hope you are having a great week!

  3. I love this idea; it is great in so many ways. It is good for personal health, “green living” and of course as yet another interesting way to advertise.

    One of the best ideas to advertise this way is that people are not as nearly “blind” to new forms of advertising. When it comes to TV and radio, people get used to ads and often do not really pay attention, but on a bike, they are not only a captive audience, but are far more likely to listen, since they do not have a habit to ignore the content.

    A great idea in so many ways!

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  4. What a great idea Arleen – as you say, it ticks lots of boxes – greenness, fitness and out-of-the boxness! I remember when the rent-a-bike scheme was introduced in London by the mayor, Boris Johnson, people mocked it, but I gather the so-called Boris Bikes are now quite popular – not sure if they’ve been used for advertising, but if someone in London is reading this, you never know….

    You’re very good at finding all sorts of different marketing opportunities 🙂
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  5. The bike share programs popping up around the globe are a healthy, sustainable thing. They can be used as local advertising for some businesses, after exhausting free online promoting. I suppose if you want to advertise nationally, the outlay would be high, and so would your potential success…

  6. Hi Arleen,

    I honestly wish we had such kind of Bike sharing program in our country too, though I feel we ourselves can make a huge difference to our lives and the lifestyle if we plan on taking it up seriously. I think the awareness needs to be created more than anything else. Yes, we do have a lot of bike riders showing up, but they are again very seasonal and don’t ride very regularly.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice weekend 🙂
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  7. Arleen,
    I have watched the bikeshare program as it moves from city to city for a while now. One of the things that I learned from your post is that the innovation of this idea didn’t stop with the initial idea. The bike share program was introduced but ran into problems of vandalism and people who took advantage of the system. Rather than throwing in the towel on a good idea that worked on so many levels, organizers in different cities started coming up with “out of the box” solutions and program revisions that have made the bike share programs more successful and more feasible from a business standpoint. It seems to me that the bike share program’s worldwide success is a testament to the fortitude and creativity of entrepreneurism! Thanks for sharing another great story with us!
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  8. Interesting, I had heard about the bike sharing programme but had no idea it had become so big.

    I don’t live in a city, but I do have a bike and ride on quiet country roads. The biggest drawback to increased bike usage here in this part of Canada is the narrow roads with almost non-existent hard-shoulders. Although bikes theoretically have the same rights as other vehicles, slow moving, often erratic cyclists and motor vehicles of all sizes travelling at 50 mph on narrow roads are a recipe for disaster.

    As a new medium for advertising, the shared bikes are brilliant and could be effective for many different product categories, not least soothing cream for chafed skin on sensitive parts of the body.
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  9. These aren’t anywhere near where I live Arleen. At least I haven’t seen them. And from your description we could use them in certain areas. Where we live is generally 5 to 9 years behind a trend (not a fad.)

    But creativity. We have that here. The one that comes to top of mind is how we utilize classic cars in a colonial town. My husband was instrumental in turning things around in the colonial area, helping the city officials understand how bringing in classic car clubs and allowing them to be shown in the square would help merchants. Now it is a regular event through one car group or another.
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  10. Arleen, I think the advertising industry HAS to continue to think outside the box when it comes to effectively reaching target audiences. The bike share program is a wonderful example. Anywhere there are people….there are opportunities for marketing whether visually or audibly. The more impressions that can be made, the more top-of-mind-awareness there is of that company/product/organization/date/etc. Captive audiences are even better. I remember the first time I went to Vegas and after getting in a cab at the airport, a small monitor mounted for the back seat to see began to play this customized message…you know, “welcome to Las Vegas, be sure to check out this and go see that…”The first time you get into a cab you’re more than likely going to watch that…or at least hear it even if you’re looking out the window. So many innovative ways of marketing out there. It’s interesting to forecast what will come next!
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  11. You always provide us with the best stuff Arleen when it comes to thinking outside the box. Where do you find this information? You are just good girl, I love it!

    I think this is an awesome program. I love riding bikes but the problem with where I live is 1) it’s too darn hot and 2) you’ll get run over. Yep, it’s not that we’re crazy drivers but I live in the heart of Houston, Texas and trust me when I say that people want to get where they’re going quickly and don’t want to mess with bikes in their way. We just don’t have the room right now to create bike lanes for all streets but they’ve done a good job in some areas of town.

    You just continue to give us so many wonderful examples of how others are coming up with stuff that if we only tried we’d see that it could work. The thing is, we just have to go for it. You never know when your idea will be the next big thing.

    Thanks Arleen and enjoy your weekend.

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  12. I think the bike sharing, which is a great idea is one of using simplicity. If you think that in cities such as where I live car parking is expensive and there has been a trend of more people cycling for a number of reasons. Instead of opening up more car parks or at a cheaper price this simple idea is a good alternative. Often when we look for opportunities we only look at our own markets instead of thinking about the customer first and then devise a solution.
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  13. Arleen,

    I just moved from New York and there were not only bike shares in my community, but also car shares. The car share sure came in handy when we needed a small pick up truck for something. It is a trending issue.

    Now if we keep our eyes open to trending healthy alternatives, we too, can use this as an edge to our business.

    Awesome post and you are giving me great ideas!

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  14. I know bike share programs are popular in other countries, and here in NYC , Bloomberg recently brought in the Citi Bikes (guess who sponsors it?). I know there was controversy about it not being available in certain neighborhoods (like Harlem, Bronx, Jamaica) where folks who need the bikes most. But I see them now in Bed-Stuy and in some days the racks are empty!

  15. I love the bike share program. I first came across it in Montreal, but it is now in Ottawa. What an excellent way to let tourists (local ones too) really see your city. With multiple racks and good bike lanes, it’s an ideal way to get around a busy city when you’re in the mood to explore. The rack I see every work day sits between one of our great museums and the canal which has a path running beside it.

    I also love that you can advertise on the bikes. If you are a local restaurant or shop, it would be a great way to get visitors in your door.
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  16. How green is this Arleen? Very, very cool. My girlfriend and I only rent a motorbike during our travels when biking is impossible in mountainous regions. For us, that is the southern tip of Phuket and also some spots in Bali. Other than that we bike or mostly walk everywhere to lessen our carbon footprint.

    Great read!

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