Location, location, location - for e-bike hire

For a number of reasons, e-bikes have been on my mind this week.  First there was an article by Simon Kuper of the (British) Financial Times (here)  Simon argues that there is no multi-billion pound industrial lobby from bicycle manufacturers, in contrast to that for the motor industry.  And therefore, moving people away from a car-centred transport pattern will affect GDP.  He describes his investment in cycle-commuting as about 300 Euro, with minimal costs for repairs and spares, and an expected lifetime of use of perhaps 10 years.  I agree.  In my lifetime, my first new bicycle was a reward for passing an examination at age 11.  That lasted me until I was nearly 30, when a car drove into me and wrote off the bike.  The next two each lasted just over a decade each, and my present one is going strong after 17 years (I can be exact because the road accident which wrote off its predecessor is a vivid memory.)  Annual repairs for the present bike. and new accessories, average less than 200 Euro per year.  An annual service for my modest car costs about three times that, and there are running costs as well.

So, Simon concludes, although it is good for the planet to switch to cycling, pressure from companies that make a bigger contribution to the economy will affect government.  (There is a cigarette industry ... but no walking industry, nor a cycling industry.)

And, soon after reading that, the INFORMS magazine ORMS Today for February 2020 hit my desk. It lists the most read OR-related posts on social media.  And there is the article from Management Science about maximizing bike-share ridership.  "It's all about location, location, location".  To see the abstract in full, go here. The authors have looked at e-bike hire schemes in several large cities and reached the conclusion - obvious really - that the closer one is to a docking station, then the more likely one is to use the scheme.  They took a radius of 300 metres (translated to 1000 feet for an American journal) and found that usage dropped off very rapidly if potential users needed to walk further than that.  80% of bike-share usage comes from people walking less than 300 metres in Paris.  Hence a very dense network of docking stations - and an instilled belief in users that they would find an e-bike when they got there.  So, "Bike-share operators with limited resources must prioritize building more stations closer to riders."

The paper echoes other research in London and other cities.  Intriguingly, they suggest that bike docking stations should be sited at supermarkets.  And, on reflection, that makes sense.  If you are using bike-share for short commutes, some of those will be to the shops.  And if you can dock the bike while you shop, then you don't pay for the time you are shopping.  In Exeter, where the charge is £1 per 20 minutes, you could easily be charged £2 for the time you are in the shop(s) and that charge becomes a "tax" on top of the hire charge.

Now, clearly, Exeter is not London.  In the suburbs of the city, bus stops are located at intervals of 300-500 metres.  It would be lovely, but unrealistic, to have docking stations at every bus stop.  But in the city centre, the distance between bus stops, and their location, could be used as a measure and a guide for siting docking stations.  And then, add a few at major stores in the inner suburbs.

The research also looks at origin-destination data; docking stations need to be where people will start and end their journeys - railway and bus stations, major employers, and spread around industrial estates and business complexes.

Now, I need a map of Exeter and some 300metre radius circles to fit onto it to work out how to cover the city centre.  Watch this space.

And finally, Cycling UK produced a page (here) about the law and practicalities of e-bikes.  Towards the end, there is the comment: e-bike users also report higher travel satisfaction than car users.  Once again, psychology enters into decision-making. 

postscript ... well this is weird!  Many years ago, my PhD student Shams Rahman and I published a survey paper  on the location of health service centres in developing countries.  It is a paper which has been cited in academic journals many times, making it one of my most "successful" publications.  (For non-academics, the authors of most academic papers give a list - the citations - of earlier related work which they feel is relevant.  Success in academe is measured by how often the earlier paper is cited within a short time, implying that you are doing cutting-edge research.  Our paper has been cited repeatedly for 20 years - but would not feature if you measure success by counts of citation within a short time!)   The newest citation of our survey paper of health-related location is in a paper about the location of bikeshare docking stations.  ("Optimal locations for bikeshare stations: A new GIS based spatial approach" by S Bannerjee et al in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives.)  Operational Research results often transfer from one area of problems to another, but I do find it amazing that someone has found the relevance of locating health facilities in Bangladesh to locating bikeshare schemes in the USA!  Life is full of surprises!

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