Can Bike Sharing Help You Save Money?

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Bike-share programs have popped up across the country, from New York City to Madison, Wisconsin. The idea is to encourage people to choose bicycling over other ways to get around, especially for short rides.

Typically, you register with your credit card and then simply check out a bike from any location in your city. When you’re done riding, return the bike to a designated dock, lock it up and walk away.

They certainly sound convenient, but can bike-share programs help you save you money? We examined four different services to see how the costs break down.

B-Cycle (Madison, Wisconsin)

If you simply walk up to one of Madison, Wisconsin’s B-Cycle bike racks, you’ll pay $3 for your first 30 minutes and $3 more for each 30-minute period beyond that.

Or, you can become a member and enjoy unlimited 30-minute rides for $5 a day, $7.99 a month or $65 a year. If your rides are more than 30 minutes, you’ll have to pay an extra $3 per 30-minute session. The maximum daily charge is $75.

Is It Worth It?

If you take short (under 30-minute) rides on a regular basis, the annual membership probably makes the most sense. You can bike as many times as you want for a year for less than half the price of buying a basic bike.

If you’re looking to take a lot of long-distance bike rides, it makes more financial sense to skip this program and buy your own trusty bike.

And if you’re familiar with Wisconsin’s weather, you’re probably wondering what happens in the winter. If you only want to ride during the warmest months of the year, just buy a four-month membership for around $32.

This program offers a perk some people might find useful: Since it tracks your GPS data and other information, your account shows you how many calories you burned on your ride.

One rider found the bikes worked well for occasional commuting, but he ran into a few problems, including technical glitches with the system. However, he noted the bikes were in excellent condition.

B-Cycle (Nashville, Tennessee)

Nashville’s B-Cycle program is similar to Madison’s, but it operates with a different rate structure

You’ll have to purchase a membership to use this program, but a 24-hour membership is only $5. A week-long membership will run you $10, a month is $15 and a year-long membership is just $50.

With your membership, you’ll get the first 60 minutes of every ride for free. If you ride longer, the next 30 minutes is $1.50 up to a maximum of $45 per day.

Is It Worth It?

If you take rides shorter than 60 minutes on a regular basis, the annual membership fee is your best bet. It would take two or three years of membership fees to pay for a basic new bike.

Citi Bike (New York City)

Everything costs a little more in New York City. (To give you an idea, if you earn $50,000 in Nashville, you’d need to earn more than $123,000 for a comparable lifestyle in Manhattan.) The cost of bike sharing is no exception.

Citi Bike offers a few different membership options, including an annual pass for $149 (which earns you unlimited 45-minute trips) and two shorter-term membership options.

The 24-hour pass is $9.95 and the seven-day membership is $25. During your membership, you’ll enjoy unlimited 30-minute rides.

The system aims to encourage shorter trips and discourage longer ones, charging up to $12 per 30-minute period for short-term members who take rides over 90 minutes.

With a short-term membership, rides from 30-60 minutes are $4, and those between 60-90 minutes are $9. Then it’s $12 for every 30-minute period thereafter.

With an annual membership, you’ll pay $2.50 for rides between 45-75 minutes, $9 for rides between 75-105 minutes and $9 per every 30-minute period after that.

Is It Worth It?

A lot of people think so. Crain’s reports New York residents and visitors take 34,000 Citi Bike rides each day.

One New Yorker, who resisted purchasing a Citi Bike membership at first, soon realized he got more than his money’s worth.

In 17 days alone, he took 42 trips via the bikes. If he had purchased a basic single subway or local bus ride for each one of those trips instead, he would have spent $115.50!

Photo: Citi Bike on Facebook

The most basic subway or local bus ride in New York City costs $2.75. A seven-day unlimited pass is $31 and a 30-day unlimited pass is $116.50. You could get a whole year of Citi Bike membership for a little over the price of one month’s Metrocard.

(Though again, you’ll want to consider the impact of winter on your desire to bike.)

DecoBike (San Diego, California)

With gorgeous weather year-round, San Diego is a great place to commute by bike. DecoBike operates under a partnership with the city, and this program has 1,800 bikes around town.

The program offers standard memberships featuring unlimited 30-minute rides for $99-$125 per year or $20 per month (with a three-month minimum). Deluxe memberships allow unlimited 60-minute rides and are available for $199 a year or $30 a month (with a three-month minimum).

You can also get your fill of 30-minute rides for $35 a week or $50 for one month. Or choose an hourly rentals for $5 per 30 minutes, $7 for an hour or $12 for two hours. You’ll pay $5 for each additional 30-minute period.

Is It Worth It?

With this program, your annual membership costs about the same as it would to actually buy a bike. If you’re a regular rider, it might make more sense to purchase a bike, but casual bikers might prefer the bike-share program.

Critics say the program competes with bike-rental companies in the area, and some argue the bike stations are not located in ideal areas for commuters. However, the program is still in its first year, so hopefully with a bit of time, it’ll work out the snags.

Will Bike Sharing Save You Money?

If you’re looking to head out for an occasional ride, any of these bike sharing programs are a great way to get some exercise and be outdoors. When you’re visiting a city, using a bike to get around town is also a fun and affordable option.

However, if you’re using a bike for your everyday commute, it probably makes more sense to buy your own both for reliability (you’ll always know it’s available) and cost.

You can pick up a basic new cruiser for $130 or so. Craigslist and garage sales are good places to check for used bikes, but be sure they’re serviced and in decent condition before you start riding.

Your Turn: Would you try one of these bike rental services?

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Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.