Motivate CEO, Jay H. Walder, Speaks at the Annual North American Bike Share Association Conference

This is, to put it mildly, an interesting time in our industry, in our cities and in our country as a whole. In fact, frankly, it’s a little hard to focus today after the late night and the surprise outcome of the election. What I do know is that no matter who sits in the White House, what’s happening in our cities doesn’t change.

Our cities have pent-up lists of transportation infrastructure needs they hope that Washington will fund. And many of our Mayors are increasingly frustrated with lack of direct assistance from the Feds. They want the power and the funding they need to keep their cities attractive and competitive but also more equitable and inclusive.

All across the nation — and indeed all across North America and the globe – there is no question that cities are becoming more and more important in our society. They are also becoming more complex. 20th century cities were shaped by the industrial revolution, which brought huge numbers of people to urban areas in the first place. Our cities organized around movement. Electricity allowed for underground railways to move incredible numbers of people every day and for elevators to carry those people upward in taller and taller buildings.

Our cities were then re-shaped by the advent of the automobile. Suddenly people could live further away from work and our cities spread out and suburban living became the ideal. Just 50 years ago, we were wondering if this trend toward suburbanization would leave our cities for dead. But cities are thriving again. And once again they are being reshaped by an incredible force — this time by technology.

You see this in the vigorous debates about what Autonomous Vehicles, and the ever more prevalent ride-hailing services, will mean for our cities. Cities are grappling with how to keep up with changes that are happening at lightening speed. On the one hand, you have massive transportation infrastructure projects that are much needed, but that will take billions of dollars to construct and decades to complete. On the other you have the nimble, flexibility of cities that over the past decade have installed collectively thousands of new miles of bike lanes, bus lanes, plazas and pilot projects.

Today the pace of change is accelerating even faster as the private sector is bringing new innovations more rapidly than ever before and these innovations are fundamentally reshaping the way we move around cities. Where does bike share fit?

Bike Share is changing the paradigm of what we expect public transit to be. It is putting technology at the heart of the new paradigm, enabling urban populations to have a personalized experience that was never available before when we think about traditional public transit. Bike share is taking its place right alongside other new technologically advanced ideas that are reshaping urban mobility in our cities. And people are recognizing that we are only at the start of what we might deliver.

I recently had the experience of standing up with Mark Fields, the CEO of the Ford Motor Company and listening to him explain why Ford is sponsoring the new bike share system in the San Francisco Bay Area. Think about this for a second. This is CEO of a world-famous car company that makes Mustangs and Explorers and F-150s and he is talking about putting their famous logo on bikes. But it was much more than that.

He shared a vision at that event for the future of Ford. He explained that his company has to evolve beyond just being one of the greatest car companies in the world, to becoming a Mobility company. And he underscored that he sees “bike share as a central piece of technology and mobility in cities.” He views this as a strategic partnership. Wow, I will admit that I didn’t see that coming when we got together a year ago.

As we reflect on that year, it’s clear that our industry continues to experience a massive amount of growth. We see that in the two new big bike share programs that launched this year. In early July, L.A. launched Metro Bike Share. L.A. is experiencing a revolution in how they think about transportation. They’re intent on transforming one of the most car-centric big cities in the country to one that has great public transportation, walking and biking. And they are proactively taking on the issue of how technology fits in. This summer, a few weeks after launching bike share, L.A. laid out one of the most ambitious agendas of any U.S. city in terms of capturing the benefits of technology to improve transportation and make streets safer for all. Bike share is one of the core parts of this strategy.

And then, a few short weeks later, Portland, OR, already one of the most bike-friendly places in the nation, launched theirs. It was a surprise to many that Portland didn’t already have a bike share program. But as PBOT Director Leah Treat says, “sometimes there are some advantages to going 65th.” BIKETOWN launched with an incredible title sponsor, Nike, and with 1,000 Social Bicycle “smart bikes,” making it the biggest smart bike program in the nation and certainly the best looking.

It’s not just about new systems. It’s about expanding current systems as well.

  • Indego in Philly added 24 new stations this year, growing the program to 100 stations.
  • Houston announced that it would triple the size of their bike share over the next two years, growing their program to over 100 stations as well.
  • Divvy added another 175 stations this year and expanded for the first time to two nearby Chicago suburbs.
  • CaBi is now over 400 stations and a new municipality, Fairfax County, recently joined this regional system.
  • Bike Share Toronto has doubled in size this year.
  • Citi Bike reached 10,000 bikes at over 600 stations this year.
  • Bay Area Bike Share is gearing up to go from 700 to 7000 bikes next spring, bringing bike share to the East Bay for the first time.

But it’s not enough to just count bikes or trips and call that a success. Success is building new mobility options that create more equitable, more dynamic and more connected cities. In an ongoing study of upward mobility being conducted by Harvard University, commuting time has emerged as a key factor in the odds of escaping poverty. One of the other advances we’ve seen this year is greater attention to bike share equity.

With programs like Divvy for Everyone, Indego’s equity program, BIKETOWN for All, Citi Bike for Youth, and many more, the people in this room are making sure that bike share is reaching lower income residents, people of color, women and others who have been historically underserved by transportation options. Many of these programs provide reduced fares and special marketing to ensure that lower income residents can afford bike share and that they know these discounts are available.

But many cities are finding it takes more than just marketing. Cities and bike share operators are starting to work hand in hand with community based organizations to build partnerships and go deeper than traditional marketing efforts ever can. Several systems, including Divvy, Indego and Bay Area Bike Share to name a few, have incorporated income levels and transportation need indicators into their system planning, to ensure that stations are in communities that would especially benefit from flexible, affordable transportation. And some cities, most notably Portland with BIKETOWN, have incorporated equitable hiring practices into their contracts and are bringing a whole new dimension to the issue of bike share equity.

And it’s working. These programs are yielding results in terms of who is using bike share. And that success has become a signature of the leadership of the cities that are taking on these challenges.

A few weeks ago I had the somewhat unusual experience of being one of the only men in a crowd of 100 women standing together on a street corner in Manhattan. It was a ride that had been organized in celebration of Women’s Bike Month. One of our partners, Tracey Capers, Vice President of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation stood up and talked about her experience. Now we’ve been working with Tracey for two years now, but I had never realized that before we had started working together she had never ridden a bike in New York City. But she decided if her organization was going to get involved with Citi Bike, that she should join and try it for herself.

Tracey said, in words more powerful than I can fully capture here, that she was nervous to ride a bike, but that Citi Bike had helped her conquer her fears, that bike share has saved her time getting around the neighborhood, it’s saved her money on Metrocards, and she said she feels healthier since doing it. I loved her story and she is so right. It is a  story that is echoed by so many others that are benefiting from bike share.

Today we are proving that bikes can move meaningful numbers of people. Today, we are proving that bikes can play well with transit — just look at how Capital Bikeshare has proved a life-saver during the Metropocalypse. Today, we are proving that bike share can fill vital gaps in residents’ daily lives by helping people to save time, save money and get healthier.

At its core, bike share marries strong city policy and vision with capable operators and in some cases, remarkable sponsors like Nike in Portland or Ford in the San Francisco Bay area. And that combination is making something bigger and better than any one sector would have been able to accomplish alone. We’re doing this collaboratively, the people in this room, working across sectors. We’re solving problems together that help make our cities better places to be.

Let me close with this story. I used to watch the Jetsons when I was a kid. Wonderful show. And one of the things that I remember about it was the vision of urban transportation of the future. We would all be flying around in our own single occupancy planes that would land seamlessly and that we could fold up into our briefcase at the end of our trip. Pretty compelling to an 8-year old. Little did I know that the real vision of the future of urban transportation would be a bicycle that was invented at least 200 hundred years ago, that emits no greenhouse gas emissions, and would be shared with thousands of other people.

Now that is something that we can all be proud of.