Bike sharing schemes tested, part 1: Hubway in Boston

During my recent trip to the United States, I had a chance to test two local bike sharing schemes: Hubway in Boston and Citi Bike in New York.

Hubway has potential, dropping off your bike can be challenging

The Boston bike sharing system, the Hubway, has been around since 2011. There are currently 140 stations and over 1300 bikes in the system, which covers central Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville.

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A Hubway station in Cambridge.

We rented two bikes for 72 hours for the price of 12 dollars per bike. Other options include:

  • 24-hour rental (6 $)
  • a monthly subscription (20 $)
  • an annual membership (85 $).

Rides are free for up to 30 minutes. After that, users pay 2 dollars for every extra 30 minutes, and after 90 minutes 8 dollars for every 1/2 hour.

If the station where you want to return your bike is full, you can get additional 15 minutes to look for a free station.

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A full station at Harvard Square.

In principle, the bikes are a good way to get around in Boston and the surrounding area. We enjoyed the freedom they gave us, especially since we did not have a car (though we did test Über and Lyft as well). In some places public transport was not really close by or the routes weren’t practical either.

The bikes themselves were also quite nice to use. They felt sturdy, quite light to cycle on, and some newer models had quite good lights. At the front of each bike there is a space for keeping a bag as well.

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Hubway bikes stationed at night.

However, as a downside, several times during our three days we wanted to return bikes, but all the stations nearby were full. Sometimes it took us a long time to find a free station, as we were not familiar with the area or the location of the bike stations.

One one occasion the station closest to our accommodation was empty of bikes, and we had to walk quite far to find the next station. Overall, these issues meant that we had to walk longer distances than planned and waste some time cycling around looking for suitable stations.

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An empty Hubway station in Cambridge.

This suggests a clear need to expand the Hubway network so that there is enough coverage and stations nearby in areas where bikes tend to run out or where stations are often full. We experienced most problems in Cambridge and Somerville, whereas central Boston had a better network of stations.

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Hubway station map showing bike stations in central Boston.

The Hubway system includes an app, which shows the location of stations and how many bikes and free slots there are at each station in real time. However, the app was not useful for us, as our smartphones did not work in the States and we only had limited access to wifi on the go. In practice, we had to rely on the maps at Hubway stations to locate nearest stations. At some stations there was no map available, which complicated things even further.

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A closeup of a Hubway station screen.

The Hubway scheme seems quite popular in Boston, and it had over 12,600 annual members in January 2015. The scheme has certainly helped Boston to become a more bike-friendly city, although there is still a lot of work to do in terms of infrastructure, for example.

All in all, our experience with Hubway is positive, but there are certain issues that would need to be solved in order to make the scheme more convenient to use.

In the second part of this post, I will be reviewing New York’s Citi Bike scheme and will make some general conclusions of the two schemes, so read on!

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