I liked the recent article in US News:
The question of revenue hangs over any bike sharing program. “I’m not aware of a bike sharing system that covers all of its costs simply from user membership dues and whatever fees you pay for a trip,” says John Pucher, professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.
The article goes on to clarify that we’re not only talking about the large up-front start-up costs. Most bike-share systems don’t even expect to be able to cover ongoing operating costs. At least we’re up front about it…
Here’s the interesting part:
Bike sharing is costly because it requires more work than simply letting people ride and changing the occasional flat tire. One of the biggest operating costs involves trucking the bikes from full docking stations to empty ones. That’s why Pucher is skeptical of bike sharing’s ability to make money.
“There’s a significant problem with redistributing bikes, mainly in the peak direction at the peak hours, and outside of downtown in off-peak hours,” he says. He also points out that in hilly cities, there can be a glut of bikes in lower-lying areas but scarcity at the tops of hills, where people are less likely to ride. Optimizing this operations aspect may be key to improving profitability.
The solution to this problem, it seems, is not more efficient bike-sharing strategies, but more efficient urban planning that more effectively distributes daytime and nighttime destinations.