A bikeshare system’s capital costs include the assets, such as bicycles, stations (if using), IT
system components, control center, maintenance equipment, and service and rebalancing
vehicles. Working capital, the costs of running the entity before revenue starts coming in—
including pre-launch staffing, installation, marketing, website creation, and launch expenses—
can also be capitalized. Capital costs are important to calculate if the city plans to manage the
system through a public-private partnership with an operator because some of these costs
will be paid for by the city. If the city has chosen to move forward with one or more permitted
private operators, capital costs will fall to the operators as opposed to the city itself.
For station-based systems, the bicycles themselves are a relatively small component of capital
costs compared to the cost of stations. Bicycle costs vary immensely around the world. Some
systems use bicycles that are almost off-the-shelf, with a locking mechanism attached, while
others use specialty bicycles with proprietary parts, GPS tracking, and/or other “smart”
onboard technology. Pedal-assist bikes also typically carry a higher price tag than traditional
bikes and present additional costs for charging infrastructure. The cost of a single bike can
range from as little as US$100 in Asian systems to as much as US$2,000 for bikes with higher-
quality technology and equipment. Portland’s BIKETOWN bikes, designed with input from the
system’s sponsor, Nike, feature an on-board solar-powered LCD screen that allows users to
pause their ride or report issues, as well as automatic lights and a chainless shaft drive and
cost about US$1,500 each.
Since dockless systems do not utilize docking stations, bikes are a larger component of their
capital costs compared to station-based systems. On-board GPS, RFID card unlocking
capabilities, built-in locks, electric pedal-assist and other technology can significantly drive up
the cost per bike. See section 4.5: Bikes for more on desirable characteristics of shared bikes.
Stations, specifically the docking spaces, often represent the single largest capital cost in
many station-based systems. Estimates range from US$40,000-$50,000 per station. However,
a greater number of docking spaces helps reduce operating costs by alleviating some of the
need for rebalancing. High-tech terminals are not required at every station in most system
designs where the customer can directly check out bikes from the docking space, but should
be included in medium and large stations. Non-interactive terminals should still provide
signage and static information. Small stations in residential areas can consist simply of docks,
foregoing some of the customer services in favor of decreased costs and a smaller visual
impact on the cityscape. Geofenced stations or hubs, as part of a dockless or hub-centric
system, require less infrastructure than docking stations and carry lower capital costs.
Depending on permit requirements, cities and/or operators may shoulder the cost of painting
parking areas on streets or sidewalks and installing additional bike racks. The on-board
technology that recognizes a bike as being accurately parked within a geofenced station or hub
will present additional costs to operators.
For public and publicly-procured systems, software can be purchased outright, developed, or
licensed, and each option will have a different impact on the capital costs and the longer-term
operational costs. Developing software is the most expensive option, though the intellectual
property can often bring medium-term return on investment through the sale or licensing of
the software to other systems. Buying off-the-shelf software has become popular at a regional
level. Although this is initially more expensive, it is a one-time cost, with perhaps an annual
service cost. 8D Technologies, which is now part of bikeshare operator Motivate, provides
Motivate-operated systems with their software. Montreal’s and Minneapolis’ systems, while
not operated by Motivate, license 8D software through a software as a service (SAS)
agreement. Noa Technologies, another software company, offers a cloud-based platform to
better manage bikeshare fleets and reduce operational and logistics costs.
Another option is licensing software. Licensing software can be a good initial solution to help
offset capital costs, but can be a cost burden on the system down the line. The Medellín
bikeshare system used software licensed from Santiago, Chile’s bikeshare for a year before
developing its own software. With licensed software, the software company is responsible for
making sure that the software continues to be updated with the latest security and advances
in technology. Sometimes the software is bundled into the cost of the hardware, as is often the
case in China.
Decisions about software in privately-operated systems will be made by the operator(s). In
these cases, cities should establish baseline requirements for software security.
7.1.4 CONTROL CENTER, DEPOT, AND MAINTENANCE AND REDISTRIBUTION UNITS
The control center is where the central management of the bikeshare system is housed, the
depot is where bikes are held while being serviced or stored, and the mobile maintenance unit
is the unit responsible for responding to requests for repairs. Bikeshare depots and mobile
maintenance units present an opportunity for cost sharing, as most communities have depots
for buses or other public goods and services, as well as maintenance staff. The City of
Milwaukee, for example, is evaluating the potential for joint agreements to clear snow and
perform other maintenance tasks at bus stops and nearby bikeshare stations at the same time.
Cost sharing can greatly decrease capital investment in such facilities and personnel.
Depots and maintenance areas, however, need to be completely secure to prevent loss of
inventory, such as bikes, parts, and tools. Rebalancing vehicles—often flatbed trucks or trailers
carried behind vans—are a significant investment, and efforts should be made for these to be
low- or no-emission vehicles where possible. In Portland, a portion of bikeshare bikes are
rebalanced using pedal-assist cargo trikes attached to flatbed trailers. As part of their permit
requirements, cities should consider establishing and enforcing standards limiting rebalancing