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Balancing Bike Sharing Systems through Customer Cooperation – A Case Study on London's Barclays Cycle Hire


P. Aeschbach, X. Zhang, A. Georghiou, J. Lygeros

IEEE Conference on Decision and Control, Osaka, Japan

A growing number of cities worldwide have been installing public bike sharing systems, offering citizens a flexible and green alternative of mobility. In most bike sharing systems, customers rent and return bikes at different stations, without prior notification of the system operator. As a consequence, bike systems often become unbalanced, leaving some stations either completely empty or full. In such a case, customers either cannot pick up or return their bikes, resulting in a low service level. Typically, system operators employ staff to manually relocate bikes using trucks, leading to considerable operational cost. In this paper, we describe various methods to balance bike sharing systems by actively engaging customers in the balancing process. In particular, we show that by appropriately sending "control signals" to customers requesting them to slightly change their intended journeys, bike sharing systems can be balanced without using staffed trucks. Our results can be used to determine the minimum fraction of cooperative customers required to generate a desired minimum service level. They can also be used as a benchmark when designing reward programs to incentivize customer cooperation. Using extensive simulations based on historical data from London’s Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, we show that simple control signals are sufficient to effectively balance the bike sharing system and offer service rates close to 100%.


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% Autogenerated BibTeX entry
@InProceedings { AesEtal:2015:IFA_5213,
    author={P. Aeschbach and X. Zhang and A. Georghiou and J. Lygeros},
    title={{Balancing Bike Sharing Systems through Customer Cooperation
	  – A Case Study on London's Barclays Cycle Hire}},
    booktitle={IEEE Conference on Decision and Control},
    address={Osaka, Japan},
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