Madison bike-sharing program grows as industry changes

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Madison’s bike-sharing program is on target to record its highest annual ride total since selling its first ride more than six years ago.

Questions remain for Madison BCycle and other bike-sharing ventures about whether they should try to be privately run and profitable or operate like government-subsidized public transit, the Wisconsin State Journal reported .
The company expects to log about 110,000 rides by the end of the year, up from more than 20,000 rides when the service began in 2011, said Morgan Ramaker, Madison BCycle’s executive director.

BCycle has 44 stations and 350 bicycles in the city, up from 27 stations and 270 bicycles when the service launched. It also has more than 3,700 annual and monthly members, compared with just 500 annual members in 2011.

Despite BCycle’s growth, it still receives an annual subsidy from its parent company, Trek. BCycle receives revenue from user feeds, advertising and sponsorships.

“Figuring out the revenue model for it has been an evolving process,” Ramaker said.

Bike-sharing is similar to other forms of public transit, which typically aren’t funded through ridership fees alone, she said.

Some cities subsidize privately run bike-sharing systems. Other operations get venture, corporate or federal funding.

The industry’s economic side is “where all the questions are these days,” said Hart Posen, a University of Wisconsin-Madison associate professor of business who tracks sharing economies. It’s still too early to know whether bike-sharing businesses can be profitable, Posen said.