“Bike & Ride” to a cleaner environment and better health in Rio

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Poor “ Cariocas” living in the periphery of the Rio Metropolitan Region spend a very long time commuting. People from the city’s outskirts travel, on average, almost 90 minutes a day to and from work. Despite important improvements in the quality of mass transit in the metro region, Rio still has more to do to maximize the accessibility benefits of its recent major investments in rail and bus-based transit systems. Infrastructure still needs to be designed and upgraded to facilitate transfers between different motorized and non-motorized transport modes. And services (municipal and intermunicipal buses) need to be better coordinated and integrated with mass transit modes.

Bicycles can play an important role in solving the first and “last mile” problem  (in fact, they offer a solution for the first and last three miles!) and in promoting sustainable transportation. The integrated bicycle-mass transport solution makes public transport much more attractive for users living within a radius of 5 kilometers from a mass transit station. At this distance, it would take a commuter 15 minutes to ride a bike to a station compared to an hour of walking. Not only does bike and rail integration improve quality of life by promoting health and reducing travel times and emissions, it can also result in benefits for transport operators in the form of increased ridership.

For this reason, in addition to financing new energy-efficient trains for the suburban rail system, our Project in Rio is supporting a bike-rail integration program, including financing for the development of the program’s business model and for the acquisition of a small number of bicycles to pilot the venture.
Supervia Bicicleta / Photo: Steer Davies Gleave

In an initial step, Supervia, the private operator of Rio’s suburban rail system, opened bike-parking facilities (bicicletarios) at six stations in the metropolitan region (Japeri, Engenhero Pedreira, Santa Cruz, Bangu, Realengo and Saracuruna). The facilities now offer 4,000 parking spaces in low-income neighborhoods where Supervia’s users can safely park their bikes for free after registering for the program. But despite the high usage of bicycles, the occupancy rate of parking spaces has only reached 27 percent, with bikers opting to use other informal bike-parking facilities where they have to pay a fee. The cost of running the bicicletarios under the current model is also very high for Supervia, constraining the opening of other facilities.

In this context, the Bank is financing a study commissioned by the State Secretariat of Transport (SETRANS) and executed by the consulting firm Steer Davies Gleave. The study seeks to understand users’ needs and to propose a business model for a bicycle-sharing program that encourages the integration of bicycle and rail.  We were recently in Rio and were impressed by the progress that has been made.

The study used focus groups to identify the needs and concerns of Supervia’s users. What do commuters need? What makes the bicicletarios attractive or unattractive? Why do people seem to prefer informal bicicletarios? Consultations with users revealed that bicycles are already a popular way to access stations, mainly because a large number of users can’t afford bus fares (half of the target population make less than one minimum salary). Most of the bike users own or borrow old and poorly maintained bicycles. Current bike users identified three main barriers to use Supervia bicicletarios: it takes a lot of paperwork to enroll, they are hard to find, and it takes a long time to store the bikes at the facilities, something that is especially inconvenient when you’re in a rush to catch a train to work.   Like an Olympic relay race, the timing of the transfer is everything!

Having identified the problems with bicycle-parking facilities, the study then focused on bicycle availability and the need to find ways to promote bike-rail integration. We analyzed various methods of bicycle delivery, including bike donations, sharing, leasing and subsidies for Supervia users.

The proposed solution was dubbed “Bike Pool,” a social bike-sharing platform that seeks to promote bicycle use for frequent rail commuters.  The program will provide an allotment of bicycles at mass transit stations where commuters will be able to rent bikes for a day in exchange for a fee of 2 Brazilian Real (60 U.S. cents). The revenue collected will be used to help cover the cost of bicycle maintenance and daily operations of the bicicletarios.

To maintain the low fees of the program, “Bike Pool” will require sponsorship from private companies that will be allowed to display their brands on the bicycles and bicicletarios. Management of the program will ideally go to a non-profit organization that can help increase community engagement.

Supervia is excited about the program and is working with the State to find commercial and non-profit partners. We believe that this initiative is a great complement to the investments made in the rail system. “Bike Pool” has the potential to enhance access to jobs, allowing people in the periphery to travel farther and at a lower cost. In addition, creating a culture of bicycle use can bring significant environmental and health benefits.

What’s next? The State and Supervia are planning to launch “Bike Pool” as a 6-month pilot in two stations: Engenheiro Pedreira and Saracuruna. With 740 bikes in circulation, the pilot phase will provide time to evaluate the program. In a second phase, 2,100 bikes will be made available in all of Supervia’s six bicicletarios.

The Rio Olympics are starting soon, offering a chance for Cariocas to see multiple cycling events. We hope that by our next visit, we’ll see further progress in the implementation of “Bike Pool,” and that eventually, in addition to offering leisure and entertainment, cycling will provide a large-scale and sustainable way to improve the life of commuters in Rio.


Daniel Pulido

Lead Transport Specialist, Europe and Central Asia Region, The World Bank

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