Friday, January 27, 2012

Bicing Barcelona

Being an MBA student, you can request a meeting with practically anybody as long as your motive is pure (enough). And so I found myself in the Barcelona Serveis Municipals office earlier today to discuss the management of Bicing, the citywide bike share.

Bicing is a fascinating business: 6,000 bicycles, 340 stations, and a network of maintennance and replacements to hold it all together. Barcelona has outsourced day-to-day management to ClearChannel - ostensibly a media company but also a public tansport tactical partner - so city hall has only a skeleton liaison team. ClearChannel evidently has gone from operating these bike share schemes as a favor in exchange for advertising concessions to doing so because they're good at it.

Even with ClearChannel's logistic wherewithal, Bicing places great strain on Barcelona's finances. Membership dues from the roughly 120,000 socios amount to only a fraction of operating expenses so Barcelona city hall has to subsidize 60% of the cost of each Bicing trip, compared to only 40% for other public transport. Claims of indirect environmental benefits may be overly optimistic in view of the 30 maintennance trucks that circulate almost all day repairing and moving the bikes (and polluting). Moreover, lament Bicing directors, too many trips are coming from people who otherwise would simply walk to their destination - not those foregoing a car or moto.

One solution is a tiered fee structure (currently all users pay a yearly flat fee of €35) where riders pay more for traveling at peak times, traveling more often, or traveling "downwards" without a return journey, which is typical of beachgoers. But last year's contentious negotiations of just a €5 fare increase were highly politicized so a broader revision of fees would be difficult. Bicing could also offer day passes like in Paris or London, an idea which would likely find receptive tourists but which would generate more flow to the city center and the beach.

We're hoping to work more with Bicing at Esade, perhaps inviting them to do a case study with the Operations Club.


  1. "where riders pay more for traveling at peak times, traveling more often, or traveling "downwards" without a return journey"

    Are you sure about that? I never paid more than the yearly flat fee and I haven't heard about anyone else who did.

  2. Hi Stefan, thanks for your comment. Bicing has considered a differentiated fare scheme but has not implemented it - and probably will not for the foreseeable future. In our meeting they talked about being part of the political process, and hence cannot change their prices at will. But I could imagine that charging per ride using a pre-paid mechanism, then discounting the base fare for uphill journeys or for returning the bikes to stations that need them, would be accepted by Bicing's customers. What do you think?