30 December 2017

In A City That Never Sleeps, Should Its Bike-Share Program Take A Rest?

One of Frank Sinatra's best-known recordings is his cover of the theme song from Martin Scorsese's "New York, New York".  One of the most famous lines in that song goes, "I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps."

Of course, The Big Apple was known as "The City That Never Sleeps" long before Sinatra recorded that song, or Scorsese made the movie.  Many things in this town operate 24/7.  One of them is the mass-transit system.  To my knowledge, Chicago is the only other US city where the trains and buses run 'round-the-clock.  Even such metropoli as Paris and London, where the buses operate at all hours, shut down their subway systems for a few hours every day.

While we New Yorkers take pride in a subway system that never sleeps, not many of us use it between one and five a.m.--the hours when, as it happens, the Paris Metro trains don't run.  Of course, most of the people who use it during those hours work night shifts and, as often as not, don't make a lot of money.  (Many of them are immigrants.)  Still, I can understand why the folks who run this system and the city question the wisdom of running subways all night:  A train costs as much to operate from three to four a.m. as it does from six to seven p.m, but carries far fewer passengers.  

Those nearly-empty subway cars in the wee hours are one reason why the newest Regional Plan, released last month, suggests that the 24/7 subway system should become 24/3, with the trains running at all hours on weekends, when ridership is greatest.  Another reason why such a scheme is being proposed is that it would make it easier to do much-needed maintenance and, in some cases, rebuilding.  That is what happens in Paris, London and other cities that shut down their trains in the pre-dawn hours.

So...How does the question of whether mass transit systems should run 24/7 relate to a bike-share program in Port Huron, Michigan?

Well, that town is shutting down its bike-share program for a few weeks.  One reason is that, "We've seen a dramatic drop-off" in usage "since the second week in October,"  according to Dave McElroy.  The general manager and finance director of Blue Water Area Transit, which runs the program, says that the bikes will be stowed away in early January and brought back around the first week of March.

Statue of young Thomas Edison in front of the Blue Water Bridge, Port Huron, Michigan

Why have fewer people used the bikes since October?  The same reason why fewer people, in general, ride bikes in places like Port Huron:  the days get shorter, the weather turns colder, and snow soon follows.  Climatic conditions are another reason why the bikes are being stored:  In most bike share programs, the bikes are outdoors most, if not all, of the time.  That leaves them vulnerable to the ravages of snow, sleet, rain and other elements.

And, I would imagine, shutting down the program would allow the program's employees or volunteers the time to inspect, maintain and repair bikes.

So...I now wonder whether other cities where bike ridership is seasonal might consider following Port Huron's example in shutting down their bike share programs for a few weeks during the winter.  

But...If we were to do that here in New York, would we still be a "city that never sleeps"?


  1. The obvious thing is to partner with another city that experiences more bike riding in the winter so that the bikes can be used more consitently. I imagine they'd like more bike share bikes in Cape Town and Rio when things get frigid in New York.

  2. Steve--That's a great idea. I imagine it might be easier to coordinate if the share programs are run by the same company: You have to wonder whether municipal governments in two different parts of the world could or would coordinate such a thing.

  3. London no longer shuts down over night. The Night Tube runs on a few nights each week.