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Roadmap for free-floating bikeshare research and practice in North America

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The deployment of smartphone-operated, non-station-based bicycle fleets (“dockless” or “free-floating” bikeshare) represents a new generation of bikesharing. Users locate bikes in these free-floating systems using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and lock bikes in place at their destinations. In this paper, we review current free-floating bikesharing systems in North America and discuss priorities for future research and practice. Since launching in 2017, free-floating bikeshare has expanded rapidly to encompass 200+ systems operating 40,000+ bikes within 150+ cities. In contrast with previous systems, free-floating systems operate almost exclusively using commercial “for-profit” models, amidst concerns of financial sustainability. Governance for these systems is in early stages and can include operating fees, fleet size caps, safety requirements, parking restrictions, data sharing, and equity obligations. We identify research and practice gaps within the themes of usage, equity, sharing resources, business model, and context. While some existing bikesharing literature translates to free-floating systems, novel topics arise due to the ubiquity, fluidity, and business models of these new systems. Systems have numerous obstacles to overcome for long-term sustainability, including barriers common to station-based systems: limited supportive infrastructure, equity, theft or vandalism, and funding. Other unique obstacles arise in free-floating bikeshare around parking, sidewalk right of ways, varied bicycle types, and data sharing. This review offers background in and critical reflection on the rapidly evolving free-floating bikeshare landscape, including priorities for future research and practice. If concerns can be overcome, free-floating bikeshare may provide unprecedented opportunities to bypass congested streets, encourage physical activity, and support urban sustainability.
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Keywords: Bikeshare; active transportation; bicycle; dockless; free-floating

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Urban Health Collaborative and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA 2: Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA 3: Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada 4: Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK 5: Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Publication date: November 2, 2019

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