Funding source: UQ collaboration and Industry Engagement Fund

Public bicycle sharing programs (PBSPS) have become an important fixture on urban landscapes, with more than 700 cities on five continents operating such schemes.  Worldwide, the number of PBSPs is growing by 40 percent per year, as communities demand more efficient, affordable, connected, and sustainable transport options.

Racks of bikes set up around a city not only allow people to get from one point to another; they also make a healthy physical exercise convenient and help to reduce air pollution.

Despite the rapid rise of PBSPs, there’s limited data available on their underlying spatio-temporal dynamics to inform policy and guide evidence-based planning. UQ researchers are addressing this knowledge gap.

Brisbane City Council has operated a PBSP since 2010 to reduce traffic congestion and ease parking pressures. The subscription-based CityCycle service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with bikes accessible at 150 locations.

By applying novel techniques to data from the CityCycle scheme, Associate Professor Jonathan Corcoran  and his team are assessing the impact of weather, major social events (e.g. public holidays), land use, and topography on the volume and pattern of public bicycle usage.

The research is also addressing the need for better understanding of the barriers and facilitators of PBSPs, particularly for specific subgroups, such as women. Such knowledge is crucial  to the system’s improvement and sustainability.

Dr Corcoran said understanding these factors is important because PBSPs do more than just expand public transport options.

“With Brisbane’s hilly topography, safety is a critical issue that can influence the uptake of a PBSP,” he said.

“This means rules and laws for sharing the road have to be addressed, with implications for all cyclists and drivers. Wider social and behavioural change is then required.

“There are economic considerations, too, since most PBSPs are run by public administrations as infrastructure cost-centres rather than revenue-raisers.

“For example, Brisbane’s sub-tropical climate offers many months of predominately dry daylight hours. But in other cities, shorter and wetter days might reduce usage and therefore the financial viability of the scheme.”

By developing a suite of analytical tools for capturing the dynamics of PBSPs in space and time, and improving knowledge about the facilitators and barriers of cycle sharing, the researchers are helping to build a strong an evidence base for city planners and policy makers in Australia and around the globe.