After Over a Decade of Proof of Concept, Public Funding Should Be Used to Harness the Benefits of Shared Micromobility

Once considered a nice-to-have, shared micromobility has proven its value as an essential transportation service. With the first bikeshare systems launched in North America in 2009, shared scooters in 2017, and the e-bikeshare boom kicking off in 2018, shared micromobility has gained considerable popularity and experienced consistent growth since inception. In 2022, at least 157 million shared micromobility trips were taken in 401 cities across North America. In 2024, many systems across North America are reaching record-breaking ridership1 at the same time that systems are facing sustainable funding struggles.2 Like all other public transportation services, in order for shared micromobility to grow and operate sustainably, it needs public funding to support capital and operational costs. Federal, state, provincial, and local governments have a role to play in funding the future of shared micromobility.

Since its launch in North America, shared micromobility has continued to deliver economic, health, equity, climate, and transportation benefits to communities. Programs contribute to climate initiatives by replacing car trips resulting in reduced C02 emissions. In 2022, shared micromobility trips in North America offset 74 million pounds of C02 emissions.3 That is equivalent to the energy that 7469 gas vehicles use in one year. Shared micromobility creates jobs and contributes to local spending. In 2022, shared micromobility employed an estimated 8,100 individuals.3 Additionally, a study published in 2021 found that e-scooter programs increased restaurant spending by approximately 4.4%, representing an additional $62 million in restaurant spending across the 298 cities operating shared micromobility. The updated study reports an increase in the percentage to 5.2%. 

As shared bike and scooter programs have become part of the transportation fabric of communities, they have helped to reduce congestion by decreasing single occupancy vehicle usage and serve as a first/last mile solution for transit connection. In 2022, 64% of riders reported that they use shared micromobility to connect to transit.3 When cities invest in shared micromobility, it can add resiliency and redundancy to the transit network, especially useful during shutdowns. For example, the City of Boston, Massachusetts offered Bluebikes rides for free during the 2022 MBTA Orange line shutdown and discounted passes during the 2023 MBTA Red Line shutdown and the recent MBTA Green Line closure. Additionally, Boston’s 2024 budget earmarks $1.4 million for ebikes and $550,000 to support discounted Bluebike passes.  

Shared micromobility systems continue to offer a range of programs to advance equity as well. Evidence from the Sacramento, California region shows that low-income individuals use bikeshare services more frequently than other income groups once adopting the transportation mode. Studies show that investment in active transportation infrastructure helps to improve road safety and reduce the barrier to micromobility as a transportation solution. Shared micromobility also provides meaningful benefits to rural communities and often connects more than one city, town, or county to the same network. 

States, provinces, and local governments can and should invest in shared micromobility.

At all levels, public funds are allocated to help provide services for public good. As a viable transportation option and mode that contributes to climate goals, has economic benefits, increases equity and access to transportation, and supports goals for vulnerable roadway user safety, shared micromobility should have more access to public funds. State and local governments can prioritize funding support for shared micromobility. The following are examples of how this is being done in communities leading the way across North America today, and provides inspirational models that can be replicated by many more communities to come. 

In Mexico, the two largest systems in the country have been long standing pioneers of publicly funded shared micromobility and integration with public transit. In Mexico City, the Ecobici program was launched by the regional government as an effort to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions and provide affordable transportation modes. Today operations are partially funded by user fees, advertising, and sponsorship with remaining costs subsidized by the state-level government of Mexico City. By prioritizing support for the program at a government level, Mexico City is helping to ensure the success of Ecobici, which just celebrated 14 years in operation. In Guadalajara, the MiBici system is funded by the state-level government of Jalisco, through the Institute for Planning and Development Management of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area (IMEPLAN) and through the Metropolitan Agency for Mobility Infrastructure (AMIM). 

Canada is home to some of the earliest shared micromobility systems in North America, including BIXI in Montreal, which launched in 2009. To support operations, BIXI receives a sum of money from the municipalities it operates in, based on the number of bikes and stations managed. 

In Washington DC, the District Department of Transportation helps to support Capital Bikeshare by contributing annually to capital and operating costs. As a multijurisdictional system, the equipment is owned by the cities and counties it serves, and each jurisdiction is responsible for the costs of its stations and equipment. 

Beginning in 2022, the City of Hamilton, Ontario started dedicating a line item in their operating budget to support bikeshare operations. Additionally, they allocate funds for accessibility, connectivity fees, and capital improvements. In late 2023, the City of Hamilton announced an allocation of funds totalling $750,000 CAD from a municipal climate action reserve fund to support the incorporation and operation of ebikes with Hamilton Bike Share. The City of Hamilton prioritizing investment in shared micromobility provides an excellent example of the opportunity for local governments to ensure the success of a program and integrate shared micromobility into their transportation landscape. 

In Columbus, Ohio, CoGo Bike Share is a project of the City of Columbus. Earlier this year, the Columbus City Council approved a $600,000 subsidy to support the operations of the system. The subsidy was calculated based on the monthly operational costs for the program. “Bikeshare helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our community and supports the city’s Climate Action Plan goals— specifically supporting an equitable shift in modes of transportation, such as riding a bike instead of driving a vehicle,” says Debbie Briner with the City’s Department of Public Service. 

In California, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, is investing $20 million into the Bay Wheels program. The funding is coming from a transportation electrification program that was originally focused on larger vehicle electrification. Staff at MTC evaluated ebike trends and interest across the system and decided to include the Bay Wheel expansion in the use of these funds. With the popularity of ebikes and electric scooters, the use of a transportation electrification program to support shared micromobility is not only innovative but also logical.

This month in Cincinnati, Ohio after reports of a permanent system shutdown, Red Bike and city officials came together to secure $462,000 in funding. Of this amount, $197,000 is from the city. The city’s commitment to allocate funding to support Red Bike operations is integral in the continued operation of the system. Upon hearing news that the Red Bike program would not reopen after closing for the winter months a city council member championed a movement to secure funding to keep the system operating. “We must have robust financial support from the communities it benefits and their governments and agencies. Public funding is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ anymore in the micromobility landscape. People have come to rely on the service and continued operation cannot rely solely on the changing investments of private funding and advertising revenue,” said Doug McClintock, Red Bike Executive Director.

Local transit agencies have a role to play as well.

Transit agencies can support and partner with shared micromobility through co-location, trip-planning integration, payment integration, service coordination, and allocation of funds. 

In Austin, Texas, CapMetro, the public transportation provider and operator of MetroBike recently launched a project to expand and make their bikeshare fleet fully electric. This $21 million project includes $11.3 million from a grant CapMetro received from the City of Austin last October. The grant was awarded by the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Transportation Alternative Set-Aside (TASA) grant program, which is funded through the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration. This allocation of funds highlights a commitment to helping Austin and its residents capture the benefits of shared micromobility. 

States also have a role to play in the success of shared micromobility.

To help address the need for shared micromobility operational funding in Nebraska, Senator John Cavanagh of the Nebraska Legislature introduced LB1250, a bill that would provide state-level grant funding for bikeshare programs. The first-of-its-kind bill shows what can be done. States and provinces can create statewide grant funding programs for shared micromobility. This could happen through legislation, or through programmatic allocations. 

There is still work to do at the federal level.

In Canada and the United States, eligibility for federal funding for capital expenses has progressed in recent years, however there is still more work to do and more funding is needed. Eligibility in federal programs not only helps to validate shared micromobility’s role in the transportation ecosystem, it presents an opportunity for state and local governments to unlock funds that can be leveraged to support shared micromobility in their communities. 

In 2021, Canada released its first National Active Transportation Strategy (AT) and a $400 million dedicated AT Fund. This fund can be used for shared micromobility planning and stations, but cannot be used to purchase bikes or scooters, nor to support operations. 

In the United States, in 2021 the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) included shared micromobility as a term for the first time, and created federally-recognized eligibility for shared micromobility in the Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality (CMAQ) and Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBG) funding. The bill also included record-level funding for the program. Additionally new climate and equity-focused transportation programs were introduced in which shared micromobility plays an important role. In 2022, the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included eligibility for electric bike and scooter charging in the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit. This month,  President Biden announced his FY2025 budget, which includes eligibility for shared micromobility capital expenses for grants available for “associated transit improvements.” This provision would still have to pass through Congress. While a large portion of federal funds cannot be used for operational costs, the recent Climate Pollution Reduction Grants administered by the Environmental Protection Agency states that operational costs are eligible costs under the program. These are all steps in the right direction, and signify shared micromobility’s important role in providing support for transit, transportation decarbonization, health, and equity, but do not go far enough. The programs remain underfunded and hard to use, in many cases lack clarity around shared micromobility eligibility, don’t fund all aspects of what it takes to make shared micromobility happen, and are proportionally small allotments of funding compared to the investments made in infrastructure for personal cars.

In recent years, NABSA has hosted multiple conversations on the importance of public funding for shared micromobility. In 2021, NABSA hosted an event that highlighted work that was being done in Guadalajara, the UK, and Paris that involved public funding to sustain bikeshare system operations. In 2023, NABSA hosted a member-only discussion about funding the future of shared micromobility. Sustainable funding has also been a key topic of discussion and attention in recent years at the NABSA Annual Conference. Just last month, on Leap Day, February 29th, NABSA brought together organizations in Canada and the United States to explore putting public dollars into shared micromobility and to discuss advocating for eligibility of public funds for shared micromobility. 

Public funding is critical for the growth and sustainability of North America’s shared micromobility systems. While user fees, sponsorship revenue, and advertising can support some costs, it isn’t enough. More support is needed to expand shared micromobility and its benefits across North America. As federal, state, provincial, and local governments acknowledge and celebrate the benefits of shared micromobility, now is the time to invest public funds into shared micromobility as a tool toward creating more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and economically vital communities into the future.