City bikes on the forefront, a Helsinki tram behind them.

New master’s thesis surveys bike-sharing users

The use of the yellow city bikes bike-sharing system in the Helsinki metropolitan area is more popular among young people with higher education and with higher incomes than among the rest. This is one of the findings of a new master’s thesis.

The master’s thesis in Social Sciences of Sport by Tuija Mikkonen examines the users and non-users of city bikes in Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa. She produced her thesis in cooperation with Helsinki Region Transport HSL.

“We possess knowledge of the use and the reasons for the use of city bikes. We knew less about the reasons for not using city bikes,” says HSL Senior Advisor Tarja Jääskeläinen, who supervised Mikkonen’s thesis at HSL.

“We wanted to study this subject more, in order to be better able to plan the future of the city bikes bike-sharing system and to promote sustainable mobility.”

The number of bike-sharing systems has been on a sharp rise in Finland in recent years, as well as in many other countries. The first comprehensive bike-sharing system in Finland was the city bikes system launched in Helsinki in 2016, after which many other cities have followed suit. Bike-sharing is seen as one of the best mobility solutions in the fight against climate change. In addition, bike-sharing can generate significant health and economic benefits.

Previous surveys have shown that the current bike-sharing systems do not serve all potential users equally, and the users of bike-sharing represent a homogeneous group.

Users of bike-sharing are more educated and have higher incomes than average

Mikkonen’s master’s thesis explains that there are several statistically significant differences between bike-sharing users and non-users. Average bike-sharing users are younger and have higher degrees and higher incomes than non-users. Furthermore, the perceived ability to function and health of bike-sharing users are better than average.

Mikkonen discovered for her thesis that the main reasons for opting for bike-sharing were practicality and independence of timetables. Non-use by respondents was often due to the use of their own bikes or a feeling that the system was difficult to use. Non-use in Espoo and Vantaa was more often than in Helsinki due to lack of bike-sharing docking stations along the respondents’ way.

“The ease of use of the system should be improved in all possible aspects,” Jääskeläinen says, adding that the current bike-sharing agreements in the cities served by HSL are effective until 2025. “Our goal is to have increasingly diverse users for the city bikes in the future.”

The data for the thesis was gathered in December 2019 with an online survey through HSL’s customer feedback channels. The survey was taken by 3,400 respondents, 40 percent of whom had used HSL city bikes and 60 percent had not.

 Well planned is more than half done

A bike-sharing system is usually an expensive investment, so it should be planned with care.

“It should be investigated well in advance whether bike-sharing is truly the right answer to the question of raising the share of cycling of all journeys in the city or in the municipality. It should also be noted that the potential benefits of the system are not achieved if the system has no users or if the use of the system increases only among those users who would favour sustainable modes of transit in any case,” Mikkonen says.

The city bikes bike-sharing system seems to have had an overall beneficial effect on cycling in the Helsinki metropolitan area. For example, about 30 percent of city bikes users in Helsinki, about 40 percent in Espoo and nearly 50 percent in Vantaa, reported in the user surveys having replaced journeys by private car with city bikes. The number of journeys with city bikes is so high in Helsinki and Espoo that it boosts growth in cycling overall. So far the use of the city bikes system has been modest in Vantaa.

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Helsinki Region Transport HSL

HSL city bikes

Photo: Miska Engström