Bike Nation Responds: Open Data, Social Media, New Kiosks, New Bikes and More…

Last week, we asked you to write questions for Navin Narang, an executive with First Pacific Holdings, the company that owns Bike Nation.  Bike Nation is the company that will bring 4,000 bikes and 400 kiosks for Los Angeles’ first official bike sharing system over the next eighteen months.  Barring any changes, L.A.’s collaboration with Bike Nation will be the second largest bike share system in the country, trailing only the mammoth system coming to New York this year.

Streetsblog readers asked some complicated questions and a couple of members of the Bike Nation team helped draft the answers.  So with a thank you to Jeff Pomeroy, Ethan Fiamingo, Navin Narang, Brad Barlow, and Derek Fretheim, we present Bike Nation’s answers to your questionnaire.

1.Will Bike Nation make real-time system data available to the public and developers as Alta Bicycle Share has done in the markets they serve?  This enables third-party applications that enhance user experience.  It also has created a high quality dataset available for bicycle planning in those cities. 

Bike Nation is the only bike sharing system in the world that uses Active Real Time GPS on our Bikes and Kiosks, which allows the user to get real-time live information on multiple devices and on their member profile online. Bike Nation will be open to data sharing as long as the applications being developed by outside entities don’t duplicate Bike Nation’s efforts, confuse the general public or breach confidential Membership information.

2. Existing bike share applications have found lower than expected use among college students and lower income individuals. Will Bike Nation work with Universities to subsidize memberships for students, and with community foundations and organizations to subsidize or administer outreach programs to lower income individuals? Is there other plans to work with universities to make certain locations are available for students to utilize bike share on campus? 

Along with providing discounted student rates, we are currently working with several of the larger Universities in Southern California to implement a Bike Sharing system on campuses that connects with the public system, which would be subsidized through the Universities. We are also working with Multiple Transit Authorities in Southern California to tie into their low-income programs, allowing the same types of benefits currently extended to them by the Transit Authority on other public transit on our Bike Sharing Program.

We also plan to have discussions with the Department of Social Services about how economically disadvantaged individuals can receive discounts or access through their transportation allowance, so Bike Nation is conscious about how we can provide service, but nothing has been formalized yet.

3. Metro has been facilitating discussions among several cities interested in bike share (Santa Monica and Long Beach at least) to ensure regional compatibility.  Has Bike Nation participated in these discussions? 

We have participated in Metro’s Bicycle Roundtable, which focuses on policy, funding, infrastructure, safety and other bike-related matters, and speaking with Metro and these municipalities directly for over two years. We are very confident that these cities and other cities in the Southern California area will be part of the Bike Nation network.

4. LA’s first car-share service was acquired by a competitor which subsequently decided to pull out of many locations. Car share and bike share can cause households to make adjustments to living locations, commuting behavior, and number of vehicles available.  What guarantee can Bike Nation offer to maintain the system beyond the initial roll-out? 

Many major cities that have implemented Bike Sharing programs have done so with heavy reliance on Government Funding for the purchase of the equipment, maintenance, and operations, which can be limiting and curtail growth. Our system is privately funded and independently monetized allowing us to have immediate saturation/connectivity, like the systems in Paris and London. Bike Nation is committed to spending $16 million for the initial launch and is also committed for a minimum of 10 years, with a plan to expand the system beyond the 400 kiosks and 4,000 bikes should we attain the level of success we anticipate.

5. Will there be contractually-mandated performance standards, such as percentage of bikes, slots, & stations meeting a minimum working condition? 

Bike Nation is the only Bike Sharing company that has an active load balancing operation platform that ensures that there will be a bike available when needed and an open dock when needed, through our mobile maintenance team and active GPS real time load balancing alerts. Our Mobile Team will also ensure that the quality and appearance of the Kiosks and Bikes meet our high standards for customer satisfaction.

6. In addition to Bike Nation, First Pacific Holdings owns Media Nation, a creative services agency, and Media Nation Outdoor, which manages outdoor advertising campaigns. Clear Channel, also an advertising firm, created Washington DC’s original Smart Bike system. When planners in DC wanted to expand this system beyond the original stations, Clear Channel informed them that they already had enough of a presence in the city and declined. The City then worked with an established transportation services vendor, Alta, to implement and manage the Bixi-based Capital Bikeshare system, which is currently the most successful system in the U.S. What assurances can the citizens of Los Angeles have that some hubs will be placed in locations with high transportation needs in addition to locations with high media impression value. 

Bike Nation sees the bike share system as part of the community’s transportation fabric, so we view station locations connected to transportation hubs as key to developing a successful system. Bike Nation is the only Bike Sharing company that manufacturers and manages its systems, allowing us to ensure that the user experience in every market is at the highest level and dictates the success of the system as a whole.

7. How does Bike Nation propose to work with the city to expand sidewalk widths in order to accommodate stations? In many of these dense areas, the sidewalk widths are already congested with pedestrians and if the stations are added without expanding widths, it only further deteriorates the pedestrian environment. 

We are working with a prominent urban planning firm, as well as a variety of city departments, and Bicycle Advocacy Groups, to select locations that will allow pedestrian access to the Bike Share locations with limited impact to pedestrian traffic. We plan to have additional productive conversations with all to ensure a well-coordinated connected network of biker-friendly streets for our customers.

8. How does Bike Nation feel about the current state of bike infrastructure and what improvements will be in place by the time the system launches? We are huge supporters of expanding Bike infrastructure in every municipality. 

Understanding that most cities in the United States need desperately to expand their bike infrastructure we are optimistic, from what the city has indicated to us, that Los Angeles is committed to improving in this area. Our hope is that the success of our Bike Sharing program will encourage the municipality to further expand in the years to come. In addition we plan to make donations to various advocacy groups that support this expansion.

9. What kind of bikes are you planning on using?  Where are the bikes coming from?  Have you considered shopping from local bike shops? 

Bike Nation manufacturers its own specialized bikes that feature a fair amount of proprietary technology, all of which are built in the United States.  It’s part of our effort to increase manufacturing jobs and maintaining Buy American compliance.  We will look to local bike shops for helmets and other items.

10. Does Bike Nation anticipate attempting to turn a profit on the system? This recent articlehttp://articles.chicagotribune… shows that most systems don’t typically do this and instead focus on the other benefits a system brings to a city so it’s important to know how comfortable they are at running at a deficit for a while and whether they plan to break even or turn a profit.

Bike Nation’s investment is a long term venture that, as a privately funded Bike Share Program differs drastically from those that are government funded.  We plan on the system being profitable, which is why we invested so heavily in Los Angeles.  We have built in the needed capital to expand and operate this system for quite some time without this occurring, but think the economic climate is right for bike sharing in Los Angeles and see the investment making sense, so, yes, we plan on the system being profitable.

11. Will Bike Nation be hosting a public input like the NYCDOT Bike Share Map where “Anyone can drop a pin on the map, suggest a bike share location and explain their choice.” ? seehttp://openplans.org/projects/… You can look at the data empirically, but this disregards the interests of people and this should also be a factor into the site selection analysis. 

Yes, within the next few months the public will be able to log-on and engage with us via our website, www.bikenationusa.com, or through our social media platforms (@BikeNationUSA, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bike-Nation/157132701016374) and post suggested locations. This data will be used in the selection process.

 

22 thoughts on Bike Nation Responds: Open Data, Social Media, New Kiosks, New Bikes and More…

  1. Since when is Bike Sharing subject to “Buy American” rules?  It may be a nice goal, but how realistic is it anymore?  

  2. Some of these responses raise questions for those of us who are familiar with transportation planning and bike share operating models. However, I’m willing to give Bike Nation the benefit of the doubt, as they are still figuring out how to operationalize their business plan.  The true tests will come with the first operational challenges, jumping through LADOT hoops to start installing hubs, figuring out optimal bike balancing in near-gridlock PM peak traffic conditions, and providing customer service to confused tourists in Hollywood.  I bet that they’ll be successful as long as they continue to work with stakeholders like Streetsblog and the LA Bicycling community. 

  3. I will second Juan’s comment. As they repeatedly refer to their system and it’s qualifications, I wonder in what cities have they previous established systems and whether we can see reports from those efforts. 

  4. The questions I have about the upcoming BikeNation bicycle sharing system in LA are still unanswered. The bike sharing systems that I know of that are profitable or potentially will be profitable do this by higher user fees (DecoBike in Miami Beach), user fees plus advertising (Velib), or a combination of user fees, advertising and bike sponsorhip (the upcoming New York City bicycle sharing). There is no advertising or bike sponsorship mentioned yet for the BikeNation bicycle sharing system for LA, so any potential profits must be coming just from user fees.

    BikeNation’s website lists a yearly membership of $75. So, if a person signed for the yearly membership uses the bikes an average of ten times a week for 52 weeks, thats 520 rides a year. BikeNation would take in less than 15 cents a ride. That would not cover the costs of maintenance, installation and redistribution of the bikes.

    http://www.bikenationusa.com/rates.html

    The BikeNation website does list a monthly membership price of $30. That would be $360 for 12 months, which is 4.8 times greater than a yearly membership. I’ve got a feeling that the $75 yearly membership and the $60 yearly student membership will far outweigh the amount of people requesting the monthly membership.

    BikeNation does list a $6 rental charge for 24 hours of usage. How appealing is that going to be when a all day transit pass is $5.  

  5. BikeNation, if they are smart, have already figured out what government and private revenue sources (for workplace bike sharing) they will be able to tap into to keep their operation break-even or profitable.

    The AQMD hands out fines to large companies (including universities) that don’t measurably reduce their “point source air pollution” (aka people driving cars to work). Currently, a host of large companies consolidate their air quality spending and run shuttle services to keep their air pollution foot print down. These companies could do the same spending on a bike share system and see greater air pollution reductions (depending on how the AQMD wants to judge the point source pollution per rented bike).

    That could save tens of thousands of dollars, or more, for some of the largest employers in the region – studios, universities, large bureaucracies, malls, factories, etc.

    The bike share subscription could be subsidized by large insurers, who would expect their members to see a drop in rates of expensive health problems. At least that is what I would tell the insurance company I was pitching the idea to.

    The sidewalk/street space the kiosks for these bikes will be is incredibly valuable real estate. Wrapping them in ads (yuck!) is a source of money that these guys have probably had at the core of their scheme.

    What I am getting at is that the bike share itself, and its meager fee, is not going to cover the cost of maintaining the system – but that other streams of revenue will.

  6. Here’s a newspaper article that covers the income and costs of the Bixi system in Montreal and also the sale of systems for other cities. The Bixi operation in Montreal takes in $7.4 million on 5,000 bikes, which includes advertising at the kiosks, along with company logos on the bikes. and its expenses are $7.3 million. That’s not a mouth wateringly profitable business venture.

    http://blogs.montrealgazette.com/2012/03/16/bixi-raising-montreal-bike-sharing-prices-in-2012/

  7. Don’t worry, the owner has lots of qualification and experience from producing films and sitting in courtside seats at AEG-owned Staples Center!

  8. In addition to the membership, you must pay for the time you use the bike (unless that time is less than 30 minutes). It would be interesting to see their cash flow analysis and usage projections for the system. How many rides over 30 minutes are they expecting?

    Also it’s not 15 cents per mile if they have more subscribers than bikes.

  9. If BikeNation can sign up 200,000 yearly members–which is what Velib has with 20,000 bikes in Paris–then that is $15 million, which does not cover the projected $16 million it will take for installation, nor the operational cost.

  10. Unfortunately, this “response” has been exactly as expected– formulated and screened. This isn’t Navin’s doing, it’s their PR division. Moreover:

    ** “Navin” says Bike Nation is the only bikeshare with GPS. Bcycle may disagree. (From their FAQ: “B-cycle relies on the integration of
    hardware and software to keep track of members and bikes, and all the
    interactions between users and bikes. Proprietary GPS
    (global positioning system) and RFID (radio frequency identification)
    technologies make it possible for bike sharing to be so smart that it is
    simple for users.”)

    ** What “other large Universities” is Bike Nation working with? I doubt any. If anything, they’ve had simple sales meetings with some campuses with the campuses figuring out that these guys are entrepreneurs with no working knowledge of running a bikeshare system.

    **Bike Nation may be irrationally confident about getting other LA cities on board, but it won’t be happening in Santa Monica who is particularly strict about public advertising.

    ** “Bike Nation is the only Bike Sharing company that has an active load balancing operation platform” — WTF? Or, in other words, Bike Nation is asserting that they’re the only bikeshare system that alerts them to empty and full stations? ALTA/Bixi and Bcycle would both beg to differ.

    Bike Nation has always shown themselves to be slick marketers promising the world and funding but still having never shown a working product. They’re a subsidiary of a media corporation that works based on circular references through their subsidiaries. Any bike advocate who has met them and asked them questions about their system and their funding origins in person has seen them scramble for answers. Their site is full of cheaply photoshopped “what-if” images and is still nothing more than a placeholder.

    I hope the best for LA, but I have no high expectations for Bike Nation.

  11.  A bikeshare company must be Buy America compliant if it is to receive either FTA or FHWA funding… I can’t remember which.

  12.  My concern is that those in the bicycling community may be too focused on this looking like a success than it actually becoming one. If they wanted a working bikeshare, they would be scouring the backgrounds and the experience of those involved with Bike Nation. They would be testing out all of the previous systems. But that would be difficult… because they’ve never shown a working product.

  13.  The US Department of Transportation met with ~80 city managers bikeshare professionals, and the like in DC at the tail end of the League of American Bicyclists National Summit. It was a fantastic meeting, to be honest. There, the DOT stated that they’re putting together a record of all the US bikeshares, how they made it happen, what funding is available, and “lessons learned”.

    Additionally, Denver (BCycle), Minneapolis (Bixi), and DC (Alta/Bixi) always make their stats available.

  14.  The concept of a reveneue-generating bikeshare relies on the majority of people buying the cheapest subscription and riding under the “free line”. This brings minimal revenue, but increases visibility massively. The actual money comes from the tourists or one-off users that get a bike and use it like a rental. They pay the high one-day cost and hold the same bike for hours on end paying ~$20+. Those “mis-users” are what fund the system.

  15.  That’s correct. They have never demonstrated a working kiosk and bike combination. All they’ve ever shown is one of a half-dozen bikes and a kiosk shell with a slideshow presentation loaded. They’ve gone city to city throughout Southern California saying that they have this great product, but have never shown it to anyone. LA needs to be suspicious and should make no commitments to them without a experimental period.

  16. I totally agree with you!!!!  on top of that, I saw the same bikes Bike Nation are saying  is there own “proprietary” designed bikes at a Hotel my wife and I stayed at in Long Beach!  I knew I had seen them before.  I called the company after seeing Navin’s intereview, as well as the rubbish on KTLA about they being a ‘Made in the USA” bike.  This company rugged cycles admitted that they were in fact their bikes that Bike Nation was ponning off as their own.  They also said that Bike Nation had absolsutely nothing to do with their company, except they were buying their bike when I told them that KTLA reported Bike Nation is the only company that has this bike.  The owner was funny too, he said, Asian made, Texas ideas!  We sell to anyone that wants a good bike, but it’s our technology and our blood sweat and tears in that bike, no california company could ever do what they have done!  Bike Nation can buy just like anyone can!  I actually think I might buy one….It wasn’t that expensive!  Plus the guy was really down to earth.  Bike Nation will go up in flames i think!

  17. one two,
    Just saw this! My brother lives in North Hollywood and was excited to see Bike Nation bringing bike share to LA. We have B-cycle here and I use it, it’s a great system! He was thrown for a loop when he came to my daughters graduation at Texas A&M. We just bought a bike from a local company called Maroon Bikes. It turns out he said, I was just at some bike week in LA where the mayor anounced the bike share plan. He said this is the bike, from the special airless tires, to the gears, everything. He was saying that Bike Nation was just on tv saying how they designed this bike just for them and that you can’t buy it from anyone…looks like you can as I spent about $900 on my daughters bike, and it’s the same bike. I wanted to see for myself, and in googling Bike Nation i found this question & answer from the CEO. Since i live here in Virginia, and we have B-Cycle, I am happy, but to see that there are companies out there trying to bs the consumer, especially at such a big level it’s discerning! I told my brother that B-Cycle will probably end up in LA anyway. Hope so for his sake, but I am glad my daughter has a great bike that I don’t have to worry about breaking down on her! I spoke with the owner of the brand himself when I bought the bike. He explained that the Bike Nation bike is really his bike with Bike Nations logo on it, but that I had indeed bought a Texas Bike, though he did say the parts all come from china…he said they paint them here in Texas and assemble them, that’s that’s good with me! Being a Aggie grad myself, but from Virginia…I believed him over some California company that looks to be decieving people! Have a good day, just thought this was interesting…and reading all the posts, looks like my brother might get B-Cycle in the end. We are all happy with them here in DC! -Gig’m Pat

  18. In addition to B-Cycle already using GPS in some fashion on their bikes, this response also completely neglects other recent bike sharing technology.  Next generation systems such as viaCycle ( http://www.viacycle.com/ ) have realtime GPS data and don’t require the same docking stations that Bike Nation or B-Cycle do, making them much less expensive.  Maybe a different type of system would be right for LA and maybe it wouldn’t, but it’s a shame that the city didn’t investigate all of the options before entering an agreement.

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