In the face of the COVID-19 health crisis, the bike is emerging as a top transportation choice around the world. Cities are transforming to accommodate more cyclists on the road and we think bike-share is set to surge.
As cities around the world start to ease lockdown restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, governments from New Zealand to Italy to New York are rushing to erect dedicated bike lanes and walkways so that residents may practice physical distancing while commuting and exercising. In Paris, 650-km of emergency bike lanes will traverse the city and the French government is providing individual citizens with €50 to get their old bikes fixed in an effort to promote active travel. The initiative is part of a €20-million investment to cover bicycle repairs and increase bike storage post quarantine. The United Kingdom is also investing heavily in cycling to the tune of £2bn, with bike repair vouchers, pop-up cycling lanes, as well as cycle and bus-only corridors finding favour.
“Whilst it’s crucial that we stay at home, when the country does get back to work we need to ask those people to carry on cycling or walking and for them to be joined by many others as well,” said U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, when the funding program was announced.
With public transit seeing up to a 90 percent drop in some markets, and public health fears associated with busses and subways, as well as severely restricted capacity due to physical distancing, likely to persist at least in the medium-term, bikes seem to be having a moment. In a statement to Parliament on May 6, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson even declared, that the “near future should be a new golden age for cycling.”
His citizens seem to agree. According to a poll conducted by U.K. motoring association AA, 22 percent of respondents said they aim to drive less after lockdown ends, with another 36 percent saying they’d opt for cycling or walking instead. In Manchester, where a £5 million fund was announced to support enhanced space for cyclists and pedestrians, cycling increased by 22 percent during the lockdown, a trend Mayor Andy Burnham hopes will continue. « Whatever people’s motivation – these choices are contributing to cleaning up our city’s air and causing less congestion on our roads, and that’s something we must sustain for the immediate future, » he said. Burnham needs only look at Turin in Italy for evidence of cycling’s popularity post lockdown. In the first phase of deconfinement, cycling flows on dedicated paths were up 335% versus car-use.
Bike-share rides a wave
In the decade or so since bike-share emerged on the scene as a transportation alternative, advocates of shared micromobility have touted it as a way to promote more liveable, sustainable, and accessible cities. Does that still hold true now that the world has changed?
On April 19, PBSC’s Santander Cycles in London recorded its busiest day of the year with 39,889 trips, according to operator Transport for London (TFL). Bike-share was similarly popular in New York in the first two weeks of March at the outset of the pandemic when demand for Citi Bike jumped by 67 percent before declining at the end of the month as more New Yorkers stayed home. However, evidence out of Beijing, where in the past few weeks the economy has begun to re-open, shows that bike-share is soaring — as much as 187 percent compared to before the pandemic.
Municipalities also have faith in PBSC’s bike-share as a way for residents to get around safely. In Barcelona, after shutting down the Bicing bike-share scheme in mid-March, the government decided to re-open the service on April 23 as it started to ease lockdown measures. And Montreal not only proceeded with the opening with its BIXI service as scheduled after the winter closure but forged ahead with its plan to bring more e-bikes to its network (about 1,000 of these bikes will be added to BIXI during the summer). In Toronto, Canada’s largest metropolis, the municipal government earmarked CAD 11.25 million back in January to help expand the city’s bike-share program, in the coming months. At PBSC, we’ve seen a lot more interest in our e-bike technology and the smart charging infrastructure that supports them, and we expect demand to surge in the near future.
If everyday citizens are being asked to stay close to home, frontline workers in healthcare, food services, and elder care don’t have that option. Cities like London, New York, Detroit, Washington and Chicago have offered this segment of the population free rides or memberships to help them get around during the pandemic. In New York, there was a “major jump” in popularity of stations near hospitals at the end of March according to a Citi Bike spokesperson, while BIXI also noted the relative popularity of bike-share amongst essential workers in early May, revealing that 1300 people in the public healthcare and social services network had taken advantage of its 30-day free membership.
To keep these workers, as well as the general population safe, and to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 through shared surfaces, operators have stepped up cleaning and hygiene protocols, disinfecting frequently used touchpoints on the stations and bikes, while encouraging users to wear masks, wash their hands before and after use, disinfect handlebars and seats and, go contactless by renting bikes directly at the dock with Qr Code or their transit or members’ cards.
Where do cities go from here?
Consulting firm McKinsey predicts that in Europe, where governments are more likely to support green mobility initiatives, consumers will adopt multiple modes of transport by 2025, while on the regulatory front, shared and electric mobility will increase in the urban environment.
Before the crisis hit, market researchers projected that the e-bike market would be worth billions by 2026. In our new reality, as governments encourage their citizens to opt for cycling and walking over other modes of transportation, e-bikes will allow commuters to cover greater distances over a shorter period of time — distances they would’ve previously have covered by bus or subway. With the relatively high costs of private e-bikes and the recent reports of individual bike shortages in some markets, the inexpensive shared option provides access to an increasingly vital transportation method that would otherwise remain out of reach to many.
What’s almost certain is that commuting patterns post COVID-19, at least in the immediate future, will look different than they did just a few months ago. Once business opens back up, more workers might opt to work remotely instead of at the office full-time. However, people on some level are nostalgic for their days spent commuting. In research published by the University of Amsterdam’s Centre for Urban Studies, 69 percent of those surveyed say they miss some aspect of commuting. But in another point for the bike, those who missed commuting the most (91%), used bikes and e-bikes to get around before mandated to work from home. Those who missed it least? Drivers.
Luc Sabbatini is CEO of PBSC Urban Solutions, the leading supplier of shared micromobility solutions in the world, including e-bikes and smart electric-charging stations. Luc believes that these solutions can make for happier, healthier, more sustainable, and more prosperous communities. Every day, he and the entire PBSC team come into work with a singular vision: to change the world, one city at a time.