Fernanda Rivera
Cycling Culture, Design and Infrastructure at the Ministry of the Environment at Mexico City (SEDEMA)

Pedal Power Cycles into Mexico Mainstream

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 13:05

The public automated-bicycle system is an alternative mobility solution that is altering transportation habits worldwide. Having the option of using bikes for public use in big cities is helping users reduce inconvenient commutes. It is a healthy, eco-friendly and cheap way to move around cities, which is why 16 percent of over 200,000 registered users in Mexico City changed their cars for pedal power, according to Fernanda Rivera, Director of Cycling Culture, Design and Infrastructure at the Ministry of the Environment at Mexico City (SEDEMA).

ECOBICI, Mexico City’s shared bike network, is a transportation service created for residents and which aims to improve mobility in the city. “The capital city registers 21 million daily trips for all purposes, while ECOBICI records 35,000 average daily trips,” says Rivera. “The government established three main objectives for this transportation method. The construction of safe infrastructure with bicycle lanes was prioritized, alongside the creation of a cycling culture not just for recreation but also as a means of transport, and the implementation of mobility integration that could complement the public transportation network.”

The system allows registered users to take a bike at any station and return it to the one closest to their destination within 45 minutes. Anyone who wants to access the ECOBICI system can pay a subscription for MX$416 (US$23) per year, equivalent to MX$1.16 per day (less than US$0.07 per day). Rivera explained that ECOBICI started operating in February 2010 with 84 bike stations and 1,114 bikes. In only six years, the system has grown 400 percent due to user demand. There are now 452 bike stations and more than 6,000 bikes.

On average, 13 percent of city SmartBike users are women. But in Mexico City, 40 percent of ECOBICI users are women. Rivera says one of the main reasons behind this is the feeling of freedom this transportation method gives them. Cyclists may feel safer on a bike than walking on the street. Also, SEDEMA offers free training for people who need to feel more secure as urban cyclists and to public transport drivers. They use the bike service once so that they will have more empathy toward bikers and understand how to share the lane.

ECOBICI stations are located in three areas of Mexico City, namely Cuauhtémoc, Benito Juarez and Miguel Hidalgo. These were chosen because they are the busiest sectors of the city. Surprisingly, studies from SEDEMA show that only 50 percent of the users live near these stations and the other 15 percent live in the State of Mexico. “Every station is approximately one and a half blocks away from another and there are stations in 36 metro stations in the city, as well as along four of the six Metrobús lines,” says Rivera.

SEDEMA teamed up with CTS Embarq and researched emissions mitigation in the city due to the implementation of ECOBICI. They found that ECOBICI users reduced CO2 by approximately 3,000 tons, almost equivalent to having planted 9,000 trees since the public service started. Rivera says that this mobility initiative is a key to reducing climate change, such that public policies should benefit users in many ways. “It is in the government’s interest to encourage cyclists because ECOBICI helps Mexico City’s Climate Action Plan 2014-2020, a tool that integrates, coordinates and promotes actions to reduce the environmental, social and economic risks of climate change,” Rivera says.

To offer customers a better user experience, during 2013 the government integrated the ECOBICI payment method with other systems, so they can pay the metro, Metrobus and light rail system with the same card. The ECOBICI app is also useful for cyclists. Users can report a bike in need of repair, if the system is not working properly and other incidents. Stations are also labeled in colors. A red label on the station means that the rack is empty. An orange label means there are five bicycles or less. Green means the rack has more than five bicycles ready to be used. This measure was added in 2015, to improve the user experience.

“We want to improve our operation and have better operating strategies. A better system, better maintenance and in-depth analysis of travel options in case of an expansion. We made this on the basis of cyclists’ demands that guide us to areas in which we need to grow,” Rivera says.