Rental Bikes vs. Advertising

The City of Portland has been exploring the idea of a rental bike system along the lines of those found in may European cities (see the excellent coverage at

In Saturday’s O, Anna Griffin explores the funding implications. In Europe, the programs typically include a lot of display advertising which helps underwrite the costs. That probably won’t fly here in Portland where we tend to try to avoid visual advertising clutter. So do we make up the difference with higher rental rates, government subsidies, or … ?

One question I’m interested in is whether the rentals would be one-way or round-trip (i.e., do you have to return the bike at the place where you rented it, or can you return it at any of the kiosks in the system). I don’t see this called out in the RFP. I think a one-way system would be much more useful.

8 responses to “Rental Bikes vs. Advertising”

  1. The Washington Post has a good article on this subject:

    One person interviewed for the article mentioned that his use of the bikes was for very brief trips: ~10 minutes. This would indicate a one-way trip. The pricing structure encourages short usage/high turnover types of trips. The first 30 minutes are free. But, it also said that people bought memberships as well as paying for usage, a la Flexcar. You can purchase a daily membership or a longer period of time.

    I’d agree that a one-way system would be more useful. But the main problem with the one-way system in Lyon is that racks get filled up and there’s no way to return the bike. They’re looking at redistributing bikes by truck. I hope we can find a better solution than that!

  2. once again, i have to point to the system they have in Frankfurt and Berlin. The bikes have integrated locks, and when you’re done renting them you just lock them and leave them. anybody can see the bike is “available” because it’s little LCD readout says so, and therefore there’s rental bikes available all over town for one-way trips.

  3. What’s wrong with a little advertising to keep the costs down? Tri-Met does it? I’d rather pay less for the rental and have a little Jeff Gianola* on my bike than pay more for the “purity.” How about you?

    *I don’t watch the local news, so I don’t know if Mr “I got a big part in The Hunted” is still a PDX Newscaster, but I have seen a few ten-foot Jeff heads in my day.

  4. Financial self-sustainability must be a requirement. Any program of this type must be 100% financially self-sustainable without City of Portland taxpayer financed subsides. Rental rates for bicycles must reflect that financially self-sustainability. Additionally any contactor/operator must be required to pay the same types of license and permit fees for each of the kiosks located public property that other street vendors and food carts are assessed. If it takes advertising on the bikes or at the kiosks to obtain financial self-sustainability; so be it. The transit busses that have advertising wraps on them are far more interesting than TriMet’s latest paint scheme that looks like a whale out of water. Furthermore, I would totally enjoy seeing a bicycle with a car ad on it. Street advertising and signage can be viewed as a form of art. Such advertising is often far more exciting some of that absurd 1% for junk art that is just plopped down in new s developments and sterilized neighborhoods.

    Additionally, should the former McCall’s restaurant become a so called bicycle oasis, the services and bicycle parking there too must all be financially self-sustainable with “pay for use” whereby the bicyclist users cover all the costs of operation, including the price tag to remodel the structure without taxpayer subsidies.

  5. quoting sam adams:

    People here don’t want more advertising, so we’re not even going to talk about trading right-of-way ad space for bikes,” he said. “A city subsidy for something like this is on the table for me. After all, we already subsidize about every other form of transportation.

    though he’s probably right, i hate to see him taking the option off the table without discussion. it may be that people in p-town would accept the trade off of more eye pollution for less air pollution, especially seeing as our air pollution contains an unsafe amount of benzene, and worst case scenario, the eye pollution will contain a picture of lars larson.

  6. perhaps a one way system could provide a small incentive, via a lower rate, to return the bike to it’s original location?

  7. peter:

    Your idea is much better than a penalty, via a higher rate, for not returning a bike to its original location.

  8. Perhaps if they had Fox News and Lars Larson in Europe they wouldn’t be so hot on advertising on public transportation, buses, shelters, and bicycles.

    Then again, they probably have laws against that sort of thing, you know?

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