How are people using hired bikes during lockdown?
The current restrictions on leaving our homes have been challenging. Essential workers still need to get to their workplaces, and everyone needs to exercise. All of this should be achieved while observing social distancing.
Under these circumstances, cycling can be an attractive mode of transport. It is easier to maintain distance from other people on a bike compared to public transport. It is also a good way of exercising. In this blog, Dr David McArthur examines how valuable hired bikes are for exercise and transport during the lockdown, based on preliminary work plotting some of the latest bike hire data.
For people who don’t own a bicycle, bike hire schemes such as Edinburgh’s Just Eat Cycles provide access to a safe and healthy mode of transport. To see what is happening in terms of usage, we can take a look at the data behind the Just Eat Cycles which are kindly provided on the Open data page of the Just Eat Cycles website. It is worth noting, however, that patterns of usage will also be affected by changes in the service. Service levels have been reduced since the 24th of March, with more provision near hospitals and priority given to NHS workers.
An obvious place to start is by looking at how many trips are taking place each day. Overall, there have been substantial declines in travel demand (see, for instance, Google’s mobility report for the UK). Is this replicated for the bikes?
Surprisingly, one of the more visible patterns is a large number of trips taking place in the first couple of weeks of March compared to what was happening before – prior to travel restrictions. The first cases of Coronavirus were reported in Scotland at the start of March. The rise in trips might indicate more people opting to cycle to avoid public transport. Given that they are using hire bikes, perhaps these are people who would not typically cycle. This was also a period when the weather was improving, which may have further increased numbers.
After people were asked to work from home, there is a drop in the number of trips. The drop intensifies after the lockdown was implemented and the service level was reduced by the scheme’s operators. However, demand is not all that much lower than before. Particularly at weekends demand is still high relative to weekends in February. Again, the weather may play a part in this.
The length of time each bike is hired for may also provide some insights.
The patterns for duration are starker. In general, trip duration is stable in February and through the first two weeks of March, with median trip length between 10 and 15 minutes. This is a typical sort of duration for hired bikes. Weekends tend to have slightly longer trips, presumably more leisure trips.
From the beginning of March, trip duration begins to increase at the weekends, particularly Sundays. Note that after the lockdown, trips last much longer. The median duration of trips then doesn’t go much below half an hour. This might indicate an increase in leisure trips. It may also be that there are fewer commuters and that only the existing leisure cyclists have remained.
Another potential indicator of leisure cycling is the number of round trips i.e., trips which start and end at the same hire station.
We can see here that the absolute number of round trips has increased, particularly on Sundays. This supports the hypothesis that the bikes are being used for leisure. More round trips are being made and the median duration of the trips has risen.
This rough-and-ready look at the data suggests that hire bikes could be providing valuable access to exercise for the population during the lockdown. Presumably, these are people who do not own a bicycle. It may be worth considering how access to hire bikes could be extended to people who may not be able to afford the fee to hire the bikes. The fee for a single trip is £1.50.
Dr David McArthur is the Associate Director for Training and Capacity Building at UBDC and is a Senior Lecturer in Transport Studies at the University of Glasgow.