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Community Bicycle Programs - Bike Library - Bicycle Sharing - Public Use Bicycles Issues: Starting a Corporate or Government Bike Fleet or Pool





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If you have questions or expertise about community bike programs, please join the email-based Community Bike Forum.  There are rarely more than a couple message a week.  The discussion focuses on community bike, earn-a-bike, free bike, bike library, bike sharing and other forms of cooperative bicycle programs. It provides those new to the movement an opportunity to get information that will help them along and those with experience an opportunity to share their knowledge and further expand the movement.  To subscribe send an e-mail to [email protected].   Please forward this information to others who might be interested.

Starting a Bike Fleet or Pool

Corporate or government "bicycle fleet" or "bike pool" can describe an inventory of bicycle just for use for getting around inside a large factory building, a "bike library" of vehicles that can be check-out for a specific time and purpose or a free-bike program where bicycle are distributed around the corporate campus and available for employees to come and go on first-come, first-serve.  If it doesn't already, the label corporate or government bike pools, as there gets to be more of them, is going be associated wide variety of programs, with a wide variety of structures.

No two entities' bike programs are likely to be the same.  Local variation and human nature would suggest that yours probably won't be exactly like any other as well.  So, don't be concern if the organic nature and momentum on your project seems to be creating, yet again, a new and different organizational structure or emphasis.  At the same time there are lessons to be learned from the experiences of other.  Here are some tips that might help:

What kind of bike is best?  Likely, the bikes should be as simple as possible. Consider bikes without derailleurs. Internally-geared hubs or single-speed hubs require much less maintenance. These are commonly found on “comfort” or “cruiser” bikes. For ease of maintenance, some people suggest getting away from caliper brakes (hand brakes), but also consider that these are the brakes system that most adults are the most trained to. Wide tires are more comfortable for the occasional rider, more durable and more stable. Wide saddles, as well, are comfortable for short rides. Similar, an upright riding position instead of the bent-over “racing” look is favored. It can be advantageous to make the bikes distinctive. Most organizations that provide bicycles make them easy to identify by painting them a solid bright color.  There are some bikes made specifically for free-bike-type programs, see anti-theft. If you are going to purchase a number of bikes at the same time you might be able to negotiate a wholesale price.  But if the bikes are boxed you will need to arrange for their assembly, and if you need to repaint them, this may be an additional cost.

Who is going to maintain the bicycles? There is going to be wear and tear on the bicycle so an on-going maintenance plan needs to be park of the structure. The optimal strategy may depend upon the size of the programs and economies of scale. If your company isn’t interested in maintaining the bikes internally, which is probably the case, they should consider partnering with a local bike shop to purchase the bikes and set up maintenance and repair contracts.

Where do the bikes stay?  If the bikes aren't for inside-factory use only, there need to be a plan to prevent the bicycles from seemingly vaporizing into the environment.  Issuing locks can serve a limited purpose.  It is likely that you will need some sheltered storage -- maybe at one location and may multiple locations or buildings. Depending upon the local climate, this doesn't necessarily need to be indoors, but at least covered and secure. Bike lockers are an option, a fenced-off section of a parking lot or parking garage, a shed or you can use a deep overhang with a chain-link fence around it.  You might want to educate yourself further on bicycle parking issues to develop this aspect of your program.

How do you satisfy the risk management people?  You’ll probably need helmets for every bike and to require their use. Even if it is not your first choice, the company’s insurance provider will probably require it -- keep you eyes on the goal and try not to get bogged down by the bureaucracy.  There are some bulk-buy helmet programs that might be useful. You might want to educate yourself further on liability and insurance issues to craft your program.

What is it going to cost?  Most of the elements of this kind of program are pretty scaleable:  Bicycles, helmets, maintenance, storage and infrastructure, and insurance all increase with arithmetically with volume but range for your initial value can be quite wide: In 2008 US dollars; bicycle $150 to $500 per bike every couple years, helmets $10 to $60 per helmet every couple years, maintenance and parts $40 to $120 per bicycle per year, storage and infrastructure might have an initial investment of hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars per bike, and insurance we have no good data on.  The larger the program is the more economies of scale you are likely to be able to capture, but these can be offset by administration and losses.

Why would the corporate or government management be interested?  The companies or governments immediate self-interest should be satisfied in reduced transportation costs and higher productive.  Management can also benefit from a happier and healthier work force, which means less sick leave.  It will also provide another (relatively low cost) feather in their hat of green-credentials to wear in the community.  We have collected more benefits of bicycle programs in a separate essay.

Organizational Tips and Strategies:

Don't try to do too much. Think about sustainability from the beginning. Get a clear mission, define your niche -- initially the narrower the better -- and stick with it. It will be more sustainable, and you will be more productive if you do one thing well, rather than get overwhelmed and bogged down trying to organize something for everybody.  Focus on making sure you gather the core space, people, equipment to your focused project happening and thriving. 

As you perfect your core project you can always add other elements later.  With the experience that you will have gained, you will have a better idea of what kinds of programs would most benefit your community.

It is very difficult to do as a single person.  At the same time, with too large an organizing committee it can be hard to get the focus.  Start your project with an small organizing or oversight group of committed like-minded people.

We welcome your input and case-studies in this area, please write.

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