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Providence Bike-Share Could Use Flex-Pricing to Get Over the Hill

When bikes are chic to airlines, we're on the right track.

OF ALL THE RANDOM PLACES, today I found an interesting article about bike-share programs in U.S. Airways' magazine--the most polluting form of transportation commenting on the least polluting?  Hey, I'll take it.

The piece is mostly a touristy narrative about the beauty of seeing the Capitol's neighborhoods by bike rather than missing them on an underground red-line subway trip.  It's worth a five minute glance if you're looking for something light to read.  It's pretty.

OF MORE INTEREST TO ME, though, is author April White's inclusion of an anecdote from her journey uphill from Georgetown to a pizza joint by the National Cathredral.  As she sweatily remembers in the article:

"Much later, I would learn that the routes most commonly traveled by bike-share users have one thing in common:  they're all downhill."

White notes that bike-shares in hilly areas have specialized motor vehicle crews for picking the bikes up and taking them back uphill again, so as to maintain an even distribution.

Which brings me to my point:  Providence's study of how to implement a bike-share(pdf) has focused on this potential imbalance in people going down the hill versus people going up as one of the difficulties that could prevent a program from being successful.

Isn't there a simple way to solve this?  If you take a bike from the top of College Hill and park it at the bottom, without returning it, you pay a surcharge. 

Or conversely, taking a bike from the bottom of College Hill and going up with it could be made lower cost, or even free, in order to save on truck rides full of bikes.

The system could be pegged flexibly to demand, in a similar way to flexible parking prices outlined(video) by Donald Shoup.  That way, no one would have to figure out ahead of time exactly what the right price incentive is to keep the balance right.  The system would adjust itself based on people's behavior.

Flexible pricing could really be the key to making a bike-share move over the hump--pun fully intended--so to speak.

1 comment:

  1. As an afterthought, let me say that RIPTA could get into the action pretty well by offering free transfers down the hill to anyone with a receipt for having biked up it. Seems like a pretty logical joining-of-the-spirits between two important hubs of urban transportation infrastructure.