Bike-share programs have in the past been designed and operated with residents as the main focus. These shared bikes have mainly been regarded as a way to solve the “last mile problem” – the distance between the final destination and the closest public transport stop that’s seen as too far to walk and too close to drive.
My new research published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism challenges this position. The study findings from the Pacers Bikeshare program in the US city of Indianapolis demonstrate the incredible demand tourists can provide for bike-share programs. In turn, the community gains extra value from tourism and the overall enriched visitor experience. Visitors incurred more than twice the user fees of residents.
This all adds up to substantial revenue for the program and an economic benefit for the city. It changes the calculations about the viability and value of bike-share schemes, which provide wide economic benefits to cities.
A COVID-driven bike boom
Amid COVID-19 lockdowns and outbreaks, communities across Australia and overseas are experiencing a cycling boom. Bike shops everywhere are overwhelmed and used bikes are hard to find. Bike-share use has risen as people look for affordable alternatives to public transport and ways to be active outdoors safely.
Tourists are an important user group
This major shift in transport patterns includes tourists. We found they are a major and lucrative user group. In our study, tourists accounted for more than a third of all users of the bike-share system over more than four years.
Bike-share allows for freedom in exploring a city. Tourists use these programs to explore urban destinations in a leisurely way. They stop frequently at popular tourist attractions and at local retail outlets, restaurants and bars along the way.
This means the economic and social benefits of tourism activity can be distributed more widely throughout a community – into neighborhoods and away from city centers and tourism hot spots – compared to cars and mass transit systems.
This is an excerpt from an article by Richard Buning, originally published on The Conversation.