Private Bike-share Services Gain Traction

Winter 2015/2016
Bikes Make Life Better customized seven-speed bikes for Mozilla’s bike-share program, which helps employees at the Internet company’s San Francisco office get around the city. Photo by Susanne Friedrich

With public bike-share services flourishing, now may be the time to consider a private bike-share amenity.

AS PUBLIC BIKE-SHARE programs boom globally and catch on in major and secondary U.S. markets, more and more developers and owners are considering private bike-share amenities at new and existing office, mixed-use and multifamily projects. Four private bike-share companies already have established fleets at office campuses for Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Mozilla, Williams-Sonoma, General Motors, Samsung, Quicken Loans and U.S. Bank, to name just a few.

“We are at an interesting inflection point today where most of the innovation happening in bike-share programs is on the private side,” says Kurt Martin, cofounder of the Silicon Valley-based company Bikes Make Life Better. “Real estate developers, facilities managers and architects are looking at private bike share, either because they were encouraged to by the market or because they saw the opportunity themselves.”

At one end of the spectrum, notes Martin, are the giant municipal bike-share systems like Citi Bike in New York City. At the other are the business parks, office complexes and corporate campuses such as Google and Facebook, where the employer or building manager wants to create its own “transit system,” and its vehicle of choice is the bicycle.

bikes lined up outside a building

Developers and building owners on both sides of the U.S. are seeing the value in bike-share programs. The Irvine Company partners with Zagster to provide
the bicycles above for residents of three apartment communities and workers at the Discover Business Center in Irvine, California. In Sunny Isles Beach, Florida,
Republic Bike customized the Dutch bicycles on the right for a bike-share
program that serves Jade Beach condominium residents.

An Affordable Amenity

Unlike a swimming pool or fitness center, a private bike-share system is an affordable and flexible amenity. Bike-share experts estimate that a program for a 300- to 400-person condominium or office building could be started with a 10-bike system for around $1,000 per bike, or $10,000 for a complete system, including bike racks, security and software to manage the system. Ongoing expenses are quite low; someone (typically from the building maintenance staff) should wipe down the bikes on a regular schedule and check their brakes and tires every couple of weeks. Usually, an arrangement can be made with a local bike shop to give the bikes a tune-up every so often for about $20 a bike.

The cost and amount of space needed to institute a private bike-share program are roughly equivalent to those required for just one automobile parking space in a structured garage. “On the development front,” says Martin, “we often work on private bike-share programs in areas where an individual parking space in a structured garage will cost $10,000 to $40,000. You can install a complete bike-share system for 10 bikes in a space where you would only be able to park one car.”

Part of the Landscape for Millennials

Another reason to establish a private bike-share program is that the growing millennial workforce considers bicycles to be “part of the landscape,” thanks to the established bike-share programs on many college and university campuses. Further, private bike-share fleets have already been established by some of the most admired companies in America, according to the bike experts. One reason that millennials want to work for companies like LinkedIn, Google and Facebook is because these young employees want to live in desirable metro areas, but they don’t want to own a car. A building owner or major corporate tenant, the bike experts assert, can create a robust and attractive bike program to draw these types of employees for a fraction of what car infrastructure costs. While you need both cars and bikes, you can fit bikes comfortably into the financial plan.

Timothy Ericson, CEO of Zagster in Cambridge, Massachusetts, adds that millennials think of mobility as a service. “Getting from point A to point B for millennials is no longer restricted to driving a personally owned car. From bike sharing to ride sharing to improved transit, this generation expects to be able to whip out a smartphone and pick the ride they want with a swipe of their finger.”

The Private Bike Share Niche

Once an area has a municipal bike-share program, is there still room for private bike-share services in that market? Absolutely, declares Avery Pack, president of Republic Bike Inc. in Dania Beach, Florida. If anything, he says, municipal programs help lay the groundwork for private ones, with infrastructure and general enthusiasm for bike sharing in a community. Pack suggests looking at the launch of a municipal program as a signal that the area is ready to support all types of bike programs, including private bike share. “We find greater interest for private bike-share programs in places where there is a municipal program,” he notes.

Private bike-share programs are a tenant-pleasing amenity as well, not only for millennials but also for baby boomers, according to these experts. In multibuilding office complexes where workers need to drive, catch a shuttle or walk between buildings to get to meetings, a bicycle can cut as much as 20 minutes off each trip and make the day a lot more efficient.

bike in the lobby of an office building

Beyond office efficiency, a private bike-share program can also reduce the tenant “pain factor.” When workers want to lunch at a restaurant located between one-quarter and one-half mile away from their office building, they typically have two choices: walk to the restaurant or drive and risk having to circle the restaurant for 20 minutes looking for a parking space. For these tenants, a private bike-share program offers a third choice that gets them to the restaurant quickly and with no parking hassles.

In competitive markets where sustainability and green infrastructure can influence tenant leasing choices, a private bike-share program pushes all of the right marketing buttons to attract environmentally conscious tenants, according to Patrick Perugini, president of Bristol, Rhode Island-based On Bike Share. He says that the developer or owner who launches a private bike-share service is encouraging people to take fewer trips in their cars and get out and explore by bike.

Security and Maintenance

Bike security and theft are not big issues, according to these experts, because the bikes’ markings are so distinctive that they can’t be confused with an individual’s private bicycle. Therefore, thieves are discouraged from stealing them. Another benefit of these bikes is that their locking systems are part of the bike’s structure and are hard to break into without destroying the bike, which defeats the purpose of stealing it.

Most People Are Bike People

When Martin of Bikes Make Life Better first got into the business, many employers told him that they were “a conservative corporation” and that their employees were not “bike people.”

“We have discovered one rule that proves out, time after time: If you put bikes in front of people, they will use them,” he says. “Bikes appeal to everyone: people who are sitting in the same office chair all day long will get out and ride a bike to go to lunch or simply take a bike ride for a breath of fresh air or to blow off steam.”