When can bike-sharing save you money?

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Years ago, renting a bike from a station, docking it and no longer having to worry about it might have been a novelty. Not anymore. There were 50 bike-sharing systems across the U.S. as of 2016, according to statistics from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

It’s not hard to see their appeal. They’re convenient. You don’t need to worry about storage or maintenance. But they’re not free. So when does it make sense financially to use a bike-sharing service?

Here are a handful of scenarios when it might be cost-effective to opt for a bike share.

If you seldom use your bike

If you hardly use your bike, you might be better off using a bike-share from time to time, said Greg Slade, a Chicagoan who bikes to and from work most days. Bike-sharing costs $3 a ride in Chicago. If you only ride twice a month, that’s $72 a year, which less than the cost of buying and maintaining most bicycles.

If you’re in high-theft areas

Casual cyclists like me shiver at the thought of spending even $100 on a used two-wheel ride. But what if you’re a hardcore cyclist who’s spent several thousand dollars on a high-end bike? To avoid theft, it might be better to use a bike-share when you need to leave your bicycle unattended. (You may also want to look into bicycle insurance.)

In lieu of a spare bike

Let’s say a friend is visiting you, and you want to tour the city together on bikes. But you can barely fit another shoebox in your apartment, let alone a second bike. Or you just want a backup to your commuter bike but can’t afford it. Using a bike-share service in these situations could be more cost-effective.

When you’re on vacation

If you’re traveling and would rather leave your bike at home, using a bike-share service might save you money. In Los Angeles, pricing for L.A.’s Metro Bike Share program is $3.50 per 30-minute ride or $7 for a day pass, which gets you unlimited half-hour rides. Visiting Chicago? Renting a Divvy costs $3 for a 30-minute trip or $15 for an unlimited number three-hour rides for a day. If you’re in New York, you’d pay $12 for unlimited 30-minute rides within a 24-hour period with Citi Bike system or $24 for a three-day pass .

Be sure to explore alternatives like renting from a local bike shop or getting a car rental, which could potentially be less expensive. It might make greater financial sense to take public transit or use a ride-hailing app, Jeremy Wall, an avid cyclist and founder of Lumenus, a company making light-up athletic apparel, said.

“If you’re able to bike an average of 10 miles per hour, then you can only get five miles in a 30-minute ride,” said Wall. “The cost of a Lyft Line or UberPool is usually no more than $5 for under five miles, and typically gets you there faster.”

If you opt for a monthly pass

If you use bike share regularly — let’s say, more than six times a month — it pays to get a monthly or annual membership to your local bike-share program, said Diana Ionescu, a transportation planner at CycleHop, a bike-share company. An annual membership to Citi Bike is $169 a year or $14.95 a month, while a monthly pass to Metro Ride Share is $20.

If you don’t want to drive

Bike-sharing can help you avoid not only buying a car, but all the costs of car ownership like parking fees, tolls, repairs, maintenance, insurance and registration fees.

With bike sharing, many gains aren’t financial, like not getting stuck in traffic or experiencing the city in a new way, said Wall. But depending on the scenario, it could save money. Before deciding, make sure you do the math.

Image: Joel Carillet