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UK Bikeshare Activity during COVID-19
Bikeshare systems in the UK have been undoubtably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown, both by the general reduction in commuting to work and by a shift in selected transport options for those that do need to continue to commute. Conversely, the lockdown has resulted in many people looking for novel ways to safely exercise and continue to experience the outside world while remaining in their local area and subject to activity restrictions, potentially resulting in a significant rise in bikeshare leisure usage.
CDRC created a COVID-19 Bikeshare Activity Index which updated daily for two years from early 2020 to early 2022, capturing and presenting activity scores, averaged over the the few days before each updated and presented as a percentage of the early March (pre-lockdown) average. The index page also graphs the general trends since the start of March 2020, for the larger bikeshare systems in the UK. The data helps to understand both the positive and negative effects of the lockdown on this novel transport mode, and more generally observe if a longer lasting mode change in how people move around UK cities was emerging.
Commuter activity fell sharply in late March 2020 as lockdown started, reaching a nadir of around 20% of pre-lockdown levels, at the end of the month, for London (Santander Cycles and Freebike), and 45% for the other large systems in the UK that remained open (Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Brighton, Bournemouth, Watford and Hereford).
In London, activity remained moribund at around 25% throughout April, before seeing a gradual increase throughout May to 45% at the end of the month, and a further slight increase to 50% in the first half of June 2020.
Conversely, the other systems outside of London recovered more quickly, increasing to around 65% by the end of April, and back to 100% by the end of May. June's 90% figure may reflect the worse weather in the earlier part of the month and the more easy availability of other socially distance travel options (such as the private car) in cities outside of London.
Leisure use on the other hand was only slightly affected by lockdown - indeed there is strong evidence of a substantial increase in bikeshare usage, when combining activity across all ten city systems in the index that continued to operate with substantial numbers of bicycles available throughout the crisis. Weekend usage in particular never fell, with the unusually sunny weather in April and May seeing the biggest ever days for many systems. Weekday usage, a mixture of commuting (as discussed above) and leisure, saw little change until mid-April and then a smaller but still substantial increase on the early-March baseline (seperate baselines were used for weekday and weekend usage).
It is clear that bikeshare has been a useful tool for leisure/exercise use within lockdown, but that its commuter use remains linked to the lack of working in offices that continues to prevail. However its recovery, particularly outside of London, suggests that bikeshare will continue to have a role in how people move around cities, both the leisure and work context.
For individual city trends, see the COVID-19 UK Bikeshare Recovery Index which also contains details on which city systems are included and why.
- Statistics are based on data between 6am and 10am (morning commuter) or midnight (full day).
- The "Recent Average" statistic is averaged over the last 5 non-holiday weekdays.
- The statistic used is a normalised average maximum simultaneous usage (MSU) number summed across the systems in each grouping.
- The MSU is an indication of, if not directly proportional to the number of journeys undertaken during the period of observation.
- The statistics are normalised (i.e. baselined) to the first two weeks/weekends of March 2020 (ie. before the advisory work-from-home direction which was followed by lockdown a week later).
- Why not use journey data? Only Edinburgh provides journey counts on a timely basis, which is why MSU is used to allow for multiple cities to participate.
- What about confounding factors? All bikeshare statistics are sensitive to weather, and leisure usage (i.e. non-commute) is particularly sensitive to weather and season.
- Why are the London and UK scores so similar?_ London accounted for the great majority of bikeshare baseline commuting usage across the UK, so the London and All UK commuting scores were similar and may remain so, or might diverge if other systems increase in relative popularity.
- Why split into only London and Rest of UK? Many systems are small and not well used, and therefore are sensitive to fluctuations caused by minor operational changes such as rebalancing. These effects can be minimised by combining multiple systems together. The full index page shows data for individual cities and data for these can also be downloaded.