Turning Urban Biking Into a Cash Cow

Those of us who bike think cars should be happy to see us coming, since we cut overall carbon and pollution from getting into the air and make the streets less choked with automobile traffic. Alas, it doesn't always work that way, so bikers console themselves with being happy for the health and mental outlook bennies of biking. New York-based CityRyde wants to make biking's benefits even more apparent, and lucrative to society especially for cash-strapped bike sharing programs.

N.B. Jason at CityRyde wanted to add this: "Just to reiterate, the added revenues could also be passed onto the users themselves through user fee subsidies."

"The biggest reason bike sharing is not really happening in the U.S. is the dire need to find additional revenue streams to fund programs." - Jason Meinzer, CityRyde

Software for bike sharing is getting more ambitious. Credit Ytech.

CityRyde hopes to do this via a software system called Inspire (Bike Sharing Carbon Management Software), that tracks the miles of a user's different transporation forms, tallies the carbon burden (or benefit), and attaches carbon credits to carbon reductions of the person's bike-based transport.

CityRyde has submitted Inspire's verification and certification of these bike-generated carbon credits to the Voluntary Carbon Standard, and is the first methodology for sustainable transportation to be submitted to VCS. CityRyde hopes that bike sharing providers (the four big provides are Clear Channel, JCDecaux, Bixi, and B-Cycle) will use Inspire to generate carbon credits that can be sold in the over-the-counter voluntary carbon market, giving the cities and towns that implement bike sharing a new revenue stream.

Capturing the carbon benefits of low-or-no-carbon transport and then selling those on the carbon market is a new field. Dr. Jürg Grütter worked with the TransMilenio bus transit system in Bogota, Colombia, to help them generate and sell carbon credits, and also assisted CityRyde in designing Inspire.

TreeHugger talked with CityRyde COO Jason Meinzer to get a little better handle on how monetizing biking might work.

TreeHugger: Where did you get this idea from?

Meinzer: Since 2007 we've been doing everything and anything we can to bring bike sharing to the U.S. Over time, however, we've shifted focus from being a bike sharing consultant to working in our main expertise, which is software. And over the years we've realized the biggest reason bike sharing is not really happening in the U.S. is the dire need to find additional revenue streams to fund programs. Every week I asked myself how to do that.

TH: And how did it finally come about?

Meinzer: Armond Rosencrantz,Professor, Stanford University, had already opened my eyes to climate financing. One day I was reading the statistic how the Paris bike share program had reduced car trips by 8 percent in one year, and that's attributed to bike sharing, and then, it hit us - why shouldn't we be able to have revenue streams through carbon offset programs.

Those bicycles trips are proven to displace carbon, there's a savings that can be quantified with precise precision, and then aggregated and certified and sold on on the open commodieties market place.

TH: Do you have competitors in this space?

Meinzer: To stay alive as a bike share consultant you have to have a lazer focus. But, to answer the question, so far no one is doing exactly this. It's a creative new technology for bike sharing.

TH: Describe how this will work in practice. Is there currently anywhere to sell carbon credits from transport?

Meinzer: We worked with Dr. Grütter, the world's leading expert in matching carbon to transport. His program, which he brought to fruition in Bogota, 500,000 tonnes of carbon credits annually. They are sold into an open commodities market, where 80 percent of the buyers are corporate and financial institutions. The reason they are buying is: the marketing value of being able to say you are carbon neutral. And, the anticipation the credits will be grandfathered in to a future regulatory scheme.

TH: What makes bike-generated carbon credits a good fit for this market?

Meinzer: Well, many entitites don't care about the credits they are buying, but some do care. Our credits are novel because there are so many co-benefits. With biking there are all kinds of benefits - the health benefits, the social benefits, curbing traffic, alleviating parking, a new form of public transportation. These types of co-benefits are what are sought after.

TH: OK, what has to happen for a bike sharing's credits to actually be sold on the carbon market?

Meinzer: For us the biggest necessity is closing a new round of funding in order to grasp that first client. It would be an added benefit if a regulatory framework for carbon were passed in the U.S. Our business model is not predicated on that, but it would be nice.

TH: If you were able to get all the major bike share providers on board and this started to happen, how would it benefit the bike share user...you know, the cyclist actually using the service?

Meinzer: Right now we're in discussions with some key players on how to do that. For example, what if Whole Foods, for example, or Clif Bar, sponsored this so that once a user hit certain metrics, that user would get a coupon for a Clif Bar. Some types of incentives like those.

TH: Do city-based electric car or car sharing initiatives pose a threat?

Meinzer: Not at all - we look at those types of programs as an opportunity. Outside of bike sharing we definitely want to scale other verticals. Our real vision is to track and monetize anything that moves.

Read more about bike sharing at TreeHugger:
When Bike Sharing Falters (And Why We Can't Let It)
Bike Share Programs Becoming Increasingly Popular on College Campuses
Cykel: A Plug-In Electric Bike Sharing Program
Bike Sharing, the Next Generation - It Floats, It Flashes, It Practically Follows You

Tags: Biking