Background Cycling confers transport, health and environmental benefits, and bicycle sharing systems (BSS) are increasingly popular means of promoting urban cycling. Moreover, such schemes may help normalise the image of cycling, and so encourage cycling across a wide range of the population. This is one key policy aim of the current cycling strategy for London. However, women and residents of deprived areas were under-represented among initial users of the London BSS (‘London Cycle Hire’) following its launch in 2010. Since that time, the scheme (1) expanded east in 2012 to cover some of London’s most deprived areas and (2) doubled its prices in 2013. These developments may plausibly have affected the profile of London BSS users, and also provide a pair of natural experiments to examine how geographical access and pricing affect BSS use.
Methods Using total-population registration and usage data, we examined how the profile of London BSS users changed between July 2010 and July 2013. We distinguished trips made with a pre-purchased access key (‘registered use’) from pay-as-you-go trips using a credit/debit card (‘casual use’). Among registered users, we used title and first name to assign gender and home postcode to assign area income deprivation, using the Indices of Multiple Deprivation. Highly-deprived’ areas were defined as those in the top tenth nationally.
Results Across the first three years of the London BSS, 152,000 registered users and 1.4 million casual users made 23.1 million trips (21,000 per day). Among registered users, women and residents of poorer areas remain under-represented, partly reflecting scheme use by affluent, male commuters from outside London. Nevertheless, the London BSS has become more equitable over time, with the introduction of casual use encouraging women to use the scheme and with the eastern extension helping increase the proportion of trips made by residents in highly-deprived areas from 6% to 12%. These positive developments appear, however, to have been partly offset by the recent doubling of LBSS prices, which seems to have disproportionately discouraged casual BSS use in poorer areas.
Conclusion Residents in deprived areas can and do use BSS if these are built in their local areas, but only if the schemes remain affordable relative to other modes. Making BSS available for different types of use, in both rich and poor areas, and at competitive prices therefore all appear to be important ingredients in maximising a BSS schemes’ potential to deliver benefits in an equitable manner.
- active travel
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