Motivate: Spinning Today for a Better Tomorrow

Motivate uses technology to power bikeshare programs, transforming the world's transportation network.

Cities Face Commute Problems

In a world of overpopulated cities, governments face major challenges in providing efficient, environmentally responsible, and safe transportation to their residents. One potential solution is promoting bicycling. For example, New York City, with its 8.6 million people[1], committed to providing better bike lanes and parking in its 2008 strategic plan[2]. At the time, bicycling accounted for 1% of all commuter trips in the city[3] even though 10% of auto trips were under one-half mile, 22% were under one mile, and 56% were under three miles[4], distances that are easily bikeable.

The World’s Bike Operator

One organization that has reshaped urban environments and reduced congestion and pollution is Motivate[5], a bikeshare systems operator responsible for running 12 bikeshare programs around the world, from Melbourne, Australia to Chattanooga, Tennessee[6]. Motivate works with local governments to create and manage public-private partnerships that bring shareable bikes to cities, often across multiple jurisdictions. For example, Capital Bikeshare operates across DC, Maryland, and Virginia[7].

Each bikeshare program has its unique characteristics, but the basic premise is the same: riders pay a subscription fee that ranges from one day to one year which grants them unlimited bike rides[8]. Each bike ride may be capped at 30 or 45 minutes at which point the rider needs to return the bike to a bike dock, or incurs additional fees[9]. The bikes themselves are sturdy and electronically lock into the docks[10].

Technology underlies everything Motivate does. It has manufactured software that relies on solar power arrays, circuit boards, power management, communications data, and payment systems[11]. It also partners with organization such as 8D Technologies to design, develop, and deliver bike technology such as secure wireless payments, sensor technology, and docking technology[12].

Motivate’s Key Technology Capabilities

Planning and Launch: In the early stages, Motivate utilizes “suggest a station” web portals, geographic information system-based demand location studies, and design drawings and visualizations, among other tools, to help bikeshare programs and governments pick the ideal bike dock locations[13].

Operations: One of the biggest challenges facing bikeshare programs is ensuring that bikes and docks are always available. To meet this demand, Motivate has partnered with Cornell University to create predictive rebalancing models that dictate where and when bikes should be moved[14].

Servicing Riders: Motivate creates tailored apps for its various bikeshare programs. The app allows riders to access their membership information, view usage history, unlock bikes, confirm that their trips are closed, get directions, and get real-time information on bike locations and availability[15]. Motivate’s software systems allow it to quickly contact bikeshare users through text message, app-based push notifications, and automated e-mails[16].

Screenshot from the Citi Bike app showing bike dock locations along with indicators of how many bikes are available (green docks means a high number of bikes). Photo credit: Citi Bike application

Screenshot from the Citi Bike app showing bike dock locations along with indicators of how many bikes are available (green docks mean a high number of bikes are available). Photo credit: Citi Bike application

Marketing: Motivate has developed software for its digital advertising and parses data to learn more about consumer trends[17].

Next Steps: Don’t Stop Spinning

Bikeshare programs have captured the nation’s attention and are increasing in popularity, but there is still work to be done.

Up the Government Stakes: Like other forms of public transportation, bikeshare programs are not economically self-sufficient, and rely on private and public funding to sustain themselves[18]. In January 2016, the Bikeshare Transit Act of 2016 was introduced with bipartisan support to make bikeshare projects eligible for federal transportation funding[19]. The bill currently sits in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit[20]. Motivate should lobby for favorable bikeshare legislation and join the conversation on strengthening public-private transportation partnerships.

Further Develop Customer Service Technology Tools: Customer service plays an important role in bikeshare operations, but primarily consists of people who respond to customers via phone, e-mail, and social media 24 hours a day[21]. Developing better troubleshooting technology and automated assistance via the app could increase Motivate’s efficiencies and reduce costs.

Preventing Bike and Identity Thefts: Because vandalism and bike theft have been the downfall of several bikeshare programs in places including Paris[22], Motivate will need to continue refining its docking and sensor technology. Furthermore, because the technology and payment services rely on smartphones, Motivate will need to ensure that its data is encrypted and secure.

Increase Bike Accessibility: Bikeshare programs are often criticized for catering to white, wealthy, college-educated people[23]. Helping design programs with tiered pricing and broader neighborhood expansion will allow everyone to benefit.

System Integration: As CEO Jay Walder has noted, we need to eliminate barriers and reimagine what a bikeshare society looks like[24]. It would be great if a Citibike user in New York could go to DC and use Capital Bikeshares. Or if map services such as Google gave people directions based on a combination of biking, taking the subway, and taking the bus. By consolidating the bikeshare system and then integrating it with the broader transportation system, Motivate and society will be more effective.

(800 words)

[1] NYC Department of City Planning, “Current and Projected Populations,” https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/data-maps/nyc-population/current-future-populations.page, accessed November 2016.

[2] New York City Department of Transportation, “Sustainable Streets: 2008 and Beyond,” Spring 2008, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/stratplan_compplan.pdf, p. 14, accessed November 2016.

[3] Ibid., p. 15.

[4] New York City Department of Transportation, “Bicyclists,” http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bicyclists.shtml, accessed November 2016.

[5] Motivate was previously known as Alta Bike Share and was acquired in 2014 by Bikeshare Holdings LLC.

[6] Motivate, “Where We Do It,” https://www.motivateco.com/where-we-do-it/, accessed November 2016.

[7] Motivate, “Where We Do It: Washington, DC,” https://www.motivateco.com/where-we-do-it/washington-dc/, accessed November 2016.

[8] Citibike, “Pricing,” https://www.citibikenyc.com/pricing, accessed November 2016.

[9] Citibike, “How it Works,” https://www.citibikenyc.com/how-it-works, accessed November 2016.

[10] Citibike, “How it Works: Meet the Bike,” https://www.citibikenyc.com/how-it-works/meet-the-bike, accessed November 2016.

[11] New York City Department of Transportation, “NYC DOT, NYC Bike Share Announce March 2013 Citi Bike Launch,” August 16, 2012, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/pr2012/pr12_42.shtml, accessed November 2016.

[12] Motivate, “Alta Bicycle Share and 8D Technologies Forge New Strategic Partnership,” February 3, 2014, https://www.motivateco.com/alta-bicycle-share-and-8d-technologies-forge-new-strategic-partnership/, accessed November 2016.

[13] Motivate, “What We Do,” https://www.motivateco.com/plan-launch/, accessed November 2016.

[14] Motivate, “What We Do: Operate & Manage,” https://www.motivateco.com/what-we-do/operate-manage/, accessed November 2016.

[15] Motivate, “What We Do: Technology & Product,” https://www.motivateco.com/what-we-do/technology-product/, accessed November 2016.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Motivate, “Where We Do It: New York, NY,” https://www.motivateco.com/where-we-do-it/new-york-ny/, accessed November 2016.

[18] Weiss, Eben. “Bike Share’s Rough Ride,” The New York Times, May 23, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/24/opinion/bike-shares-rough-ride.html, accessed November 2016.

[19] Bikeshare Transit Act of 2016, H.R. 4343, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., January 7, 2016. https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/hr4343/BILLS-114hr4343ih.pdf, accessed November 2016.

[20] “H.R. 4343 – Bikeshare Transit Act of 2016,” Congress.gov, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4343/committees, accessed November 2016.

[21] Motivate, “What We Do: Operate & Manage,” https://www.motivateco.com/what-we-do/operate-manage/, accessed November 2016.

[22] Whitford, David. “The Technology Behind Bike Sharing Systems.” Fortune, May 17, 2011. http://fortune.com/2011/05/17/the-technology-behind-bike-sharing-systems/, accessed November 2016.

[23] Stromberg, Joseph. “Bike share users are mostly rich and white. Here’s why that’s hard to change.” Vox, May 15, 2015. http://www.vox.com/2015/5/15/8608567/bike-share-wealth-race, accessed November 2016.

[24] Goodyear, Sarah. “Bike-Share Could Be ‘A Much More Integrated Platform,’ Says Bike-Share CEO,” CityLab, January 15, 2015. http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/01/a-conversation-jay-walder-the-man-running-motivate-the-nations-biggest-bike-share-company/384534/, accessed November 2016.

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5 thoughts on “Motivate: Spinning Today for a Better Tomorrow

  1. Really cool post Joanna. As a former citibike user, I loved the system for those last mile commutes where walking took too long but the train was too out of the way and costly. I think there is a lot of potential for expansion in NYC, however I wonder how useful it would be in commuter based cities and especially how it would influence the wealth divide in the USA.

    Citibike only launched in downtown and midtown manhattan, where some of the richest, youngest and whitest New Yorkers lived, and expansion has only moved towards Astoria (trendy part of queens), Upper East and West Side and parts of trendy Brooklyn. I think that as a result of the program, NYC has not properly tried to service the outer- borough middle and lower economic classes and has not serviced the vast majority of minorities in the city.

    In addition, in cities such as LA, Denver, Atlanta, we will most likely see these systems only in city centers similar to manhattan NYC, servicing urban youth.

    My issue with all of this, is that if these systems are going to be publicly funded or at least subsidized, are we effectively subsidizing the rich at the expense of the poor who can not use these systems. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t create these systems as a result, however I think it is a debate worth having as bikeshare’s continue to growth in the USA.

  2. Great post! Even when I think this idea is fantastic, I am not really happy about the execution.

    First of all, I think that as far as possible, this type of services should be self sufficient. I understand that to motivate the usage of a good that have a positive externality, we should subsidize the good. Nevertheless, I feel that using bicycles don’t have a direct positive impact in the environment… using the car less is what affect the environment. Then, from an economic point of view, we should increase the cost of using cars, not decrease the cost of using bicycles.

    My second issue is more personal. I feel that the quality of this public bikes is very low. To give you an example, cycle from Harvard Square to Kendall Square in the Boston public bikes takes me around 25 minutes, but it only takes me around 12 minutes in a regular bike. My intuition is that having this low quality bikes decrease the cost of them and the level of thefts… but at the same time it decrease the willingness to use them, and instead push customers to keep using their regular transportation (car, bus, subway).

    1. Not sure I follow your logic here, Bernadita.

      If the cost of cars is not self-sufficient, why should we expect bike sharing to be? We heavily subsidize cars with the enormous investment in roads, not to mention the billions of dollars of subsidies for gasoline.[1] We have made nowhere near the same level of investment in bike-friendly streets, and until bike sharing programs, invested essentially no public money in bicycles. (CitiBike in New York does not take public funds, though it does use public space.) I agree that increasing the cost of using a car is beneficial for the environment, but improving the accessibility of bikes and bike infrastructure can also reduce car trips. A survey in Denver on the implementation of their bike-sharing system found that about 40% of trips directly replaced car trips.[2] There’s no reason to only use one potential solution to a problem—as a society we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

      I also disagree on the quality of the bicycles. I have been a member of both CitiBike in New York and Hubway in Boston. While I have seen bikes that need repair, there is a system in place to mark them as such at the docking stations, and technicians do repair them quickly. The heavy 3-speed design of the bikes is well-suited to urban environments and the short- to medium-distance trips for which they are intended. While you’re not going to go faster than a good road bike going at top speed on long straightaways, with the speed allowed by normal traffic conditions and lights in their intended urban setting, the bikes perform exceptionally well. Their heavier construction also makes them better at handling the potholes and debris that are often (unfortunately) found along the sides of the roads where cyclists are generally forced to ride. I’ve biked crosstown through a blizzard in Manhattan on a CitiBike quite successfully, conditions where I never would have considered using a traditional hybrid or road bike. On protected bike lanes, I also routinely passed people using traditional bikes on my CitiBike. Perhaps we can set up a race? Not sure I’d win, but I can at least beat half speed. 🙂

      [1] Elizabeth Bast et al, “Empty promises: G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production,” Oil Change International, November 2015 [http://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2015/11/Empty-promises_main-report.2015.pdf] accessed November 2016.
      [2] Kaiser Permanente, “Denver B-cycle Finishes Successful First Season with 102,981 Rides,” December 7, 2010 [https://share.kaiserpermanente.org/article/denver-b-cycle-finishes-successful-first-season-with-102981-rides/] accessed November 2016.

  3. Great post, Joanna! This is a really nifty example of the power of technology to transform urban transportation networks.

    When CitiBike first came to NYC, I was primarily skeptical about safety on the roads, but an amazing statistic I discovered recently is that CitiBike hasn’t had a single fatality since its launch over three years ago. While much of this can be attributed to some of the bike design elements Peter referenced in his comment above, how much of it is luck? Urban streets particularly in New York City are still not optimally designed to protect the biker. What are cities doing to improve their biking infrastructure and how is Motivate playing its part to ensure rider safety?

    Separately, is there an opportunity for Motivate to eventually monetize it’s data assets? Who would be target partners in this effort?

  4. Great post Joanna, thanks for sharing!

    I love bicycling, and I’m all in favor of people riding more to commute. I partially agree with Bernadita’s point that the bicycles in ride sharing programs are pretty clunky, but this is partially mitigated by Peter’s response. Having the perfect bicycle for everyone and all conditions would be impossible without having more variation in what’s available–and such solution would introduce all sorts of problems as well.

    One question I had is how the economics of these projects works. Is Motivate a for profit entity? Are governments just subsidizing the initial construction of the ride-sharing programs, or are they subsidizing the operation of them as well? What do the steady-state economics of the programs look like, and who captures that value (i.e. Motivate or the city)?

    Overall, great post, and thanks for sharing!

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