bicycle sharing and operations research

Have you seen the bike share programs that are being put in use in major metro areas?  I am intrigued, since running an effective bike share program requires a healthy dose of OR.

In bike share programs, bicycles are located at a number of hubs in an urban area.  People with memberships can borrow a bike from one hub, ride from point A to point B, and then return it to another hub for someone else to use.  People can purchase a membership through a number of different membership options.  The concept is similar to how zip cars work, but it is more informal since there are no reservations.  Bike sharing reminds me of the “take a penny, leave a penny” concept but with bikes.  Learn more about ten major bicycle sharing programs here.

I recently read an article about bike share programs that really got me thinking about all of the opportunities:

  • Facility location of bicycle hubs.  The small number of existing facilities must be located given that many more facilities will be opened.  Chicago is starting with six hubs. Paris’s mature program has 1450 hubs.
  • Predicting temporal travel patterns to forecast demand.  This can help predict where to locate additional hubs.
  • Pricing options.  Encouraging people to take short trips lets more bicycles be available for other riders.  The article reports that one bicyclesharing system charges a fine for trips more than one hour long.
  • Algorithms for relocating bicycles if one of hubs becomes empty (e.g., a hub near a train station may be emptied by commuters who travel to work in the morning, re be replenished in the afternoon) or strategies for eliminating the need to relocate bicycles.
  • Designing the system to discourage theft (through bicycle design, better facility locations, etc.)
  • Methods for purchasing or obtaining new bikes.  Most systems have a single type of bicycle available. Rather than purchasing bicycles, London is experimenting with “donated” bikes from people with an extra bike to spare (it’s not clear of the owners receive compensation).

Related posts:

How would you use OR to run a bicycle sharing program?

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