Special Report: Cycling

Hamilton Bike Share Used for Commuting

Public policy should reflect the real potential for cycling to accommodate people's daily transportation needs.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 08, 2016

I was curious about the distribution of Hamilton Bike Share trips by hour of day, so I took the set of every trip since the service launched a year ago in mid-January and made a chart:

Chart 1: Hamilton Bike Share trips by hour
Chart 1: Hamilton Bike Share trips by hour

As you can see, the quietest hour of the day for bike share trips is between 5:00 and 6:00 AM, after which ridership rapidly climbs to a peak at 9:00 AM. Ridership declines a bit and plateaus during the day and then rises to a second, taller peak between 5:00 and 6:00 PM before falling off steadily into the night.

I'm interested in those two peaks, which correspond with AM and PM rush hour, when most people are heading to and from work and transportation systems are at their busiest. This tells us that a non-trivial percentage of bike share rides are commutes to - and especially from - work.

To dig a bit deeper, I excluded weekend days from the data set and plotted a chart with just weekday rides.

Chart 2: Hamilton Bike Share trips by weekday
Chart 2: Hamilton Bike Share trips by hour on weekdays

When you strip out weekends, the AM and PM ridership spikes become even more pronounced. They're easily 60 percent higher than the midday average between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.

Just to see the spike more clearly, here is a chart of rides per hour on just weekend days:

Chart 3: Hamilton Bike Share trips by hour on weekend days
Chart 3: Hamilton Bike Share trips by hour on weekend days

As you see, it follows something closer to a normal (bell-curve) distribution, rising from the lowest ridership at 6:00 AM to a plateau between 3:00 and 5:00 PM and declining thereafter. This weekend distribution of trips looks more like the pattern you would expect of a service that is mainly recreational rather than commuter-oriented.

For me, the biggest takeaway here is that on weekdays, Hamilton Bike Share is definitely not just a way for hipsters to tool around for fun. The results show that that Bike Share is a legitimate component of the city's transportation infrastructure.

For a municipality that too often makes cycling infrastructure decisions based on the assumption that cycling is for recreation, this is an important reminder that public policy should reflect the real potential for cycling to accommodate people's daily transportation needs.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 13:40:49

this makes no sense. Certain councillors have data that proves anyone riding a bike or using transit is an unemployed activist. So maybe all these people are just going out for leisure rides during those peak hours and then heading back home to play video games and plan their next activist endeavours.....

......

Or, maybe human beings without cars still have jobs and go to school like everyone else.....

Maybe

Comment edited by JasonL on 2016-04-08 13:41:35

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 08, 2016 at 13:42:15 in reply to Comment 117529

Or maybe human beings with cars like to have the option to take a bike instead the car for some trips.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 19:37:37 in reply to Comment 117530

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By Cheap (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 16:11:06 in reply to Comment 117530

I think if you own a car you can buy a bike.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 08, 2016 at 21:33:07 in reply to Comment 117534

I own a car and a bike. I bought a bike share membership because I wanted to support the program, but I didn't actually know how much or little I would use the service. I can honestly report that it has been revolutionary for me. I find myself using it all the time - to get to work if I'm running late, to meet someone at a location too distant to walk during my lunch hour, to run an out-of-the-way errand after work, to get to meetings, to get to the pub (have a couple of drinks and walk home), to get to a location to take a photo for an article, to take a lunchtime bike ride for exercise, and so on. I actually do more things now that I have the speed and flexibility of an on-demand bike service. I make more meetings, complete more errands, and get more done in a given week.

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By rth (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 14:02:03 in reply to Comment 117547

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By Yay (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 14:40:07 in reply to Comment 117530

I'm one of them!

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 13:43:18 in reply to Comment 117530

oh come on. Now you're just full of crazy talk The lotto ticket agent at Westcliffe Mall drives to work everyday. Therefore, everyone else should be forced too as well.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2016-04-08 13:44:08

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 08, 2016 at 13:56:22

the smoothness of the curve on weekends is somehow compelling to look at. now how about this - turn this data into a waveform and let's see what the song sounds like

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By Mark-Alan (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 17:39:22

Why do they lose money?

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2016 at 18:15:52 in reply to Comment 117535

Mark-Alan Whittle,

Are you aware that SoBi bikeshare breaks even operationally at half rides per day than BIXI?

Smartbike systems such as SoBi breaks-even at only 2 rides per bike per day average, and I interviewed SoBiHamilton during their anniversary party, for an upcoming RTH article. They break-even operationally.

Sure, they need capital for expansion, but, operationally break even. Huge cost savings occur because bike rebalancing is partially crowdsourced. (Riders get a reward in bike credit when returning an offdock bike to a dock). Full docks don't need an emergency rebalance (SoBi electronic U-bar allows docking nearby pole, tree, fence or regular bike rack).

I own a bike but see the allure of this system. While I still drive to Aldershot GO for more flexible all-day GO service -- personally if I am up early enough in good weather, I now use SoBi to commute to the GO station. My SoBi+GO commute actually competes with my Aldershot drive+GO commute. The 1-way biking convenience allows park-and-forget without the usual weather/theft worries. I can take a bus or taxi "in the other direction" on the bad days. On pay-per-use (the cheapie $5 membership), that 10 minute bike commute to the GO station cost only ~80 cents (the $4/hr is pro-rated to the second), which is cheaper than a bus fare! I was so impressed a year ago, that I upgraded to a monthly membership.

Let's be VERY glad we didn't choose a BIXI type system for a lower-density city -- the smartbike system allowed larger number of dumbdocks spread over a larger lower-density city than Toronto. Ours is 45 sq/km compared to Toronto's 15 sq/km coverage.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-04-15 18:27:12

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2016 at 16:10:36 in reply to Comment 117535

There is no operational subsidy for bike share.

But that aside, aren't you in support of free transit?

Fully subsidize the HSR, make it free. But an operational review and economy of scale saving are necessary to cut out the overlap first. Bring all aspects of transportation, including disabled transit, into one structure, and millions can be saved.

--Mark-Alan Whittle

Why not free bike share then? The cost to operate the entire bike share system would be similar to the cost of operating a single HSR bus.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 11:06:23 in reply to Comment 117535

how do you "lose money" if you're a not-for-profit?

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By Wow (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 11:31:43 in reply to Comment 117560

You would be a terrible treasurer

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 19:20:29

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2016 at 06:19:14 in reply to Comment 117545

I excluded all trips where the origin or destination was at McMaster and ran the chart again for weekday trips:

Hamilton Bike Share Trips by Hour, Weekdays, No McMaster

So much for that theory.

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By dur (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 23:29:04 in reply to Comment 117545

This article does not mention cars at all. The point is that people are using the bikes for trips that are not pure recreation.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 17:59:58 in reply to Comment 117551

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By dur (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 19:17:19 in reply to Comment 117575

Only when someone (you?) is coming from a perspective of cars being the only legitimate mode of transportation, which they aren't.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 08, 2016 at 21:36:13 in reply to Comment 117545

before claiming that people are cashing in their cars for bike rentals.

Yeah, that's not what I'm claiming.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 17:58:38 in reply to Comment 117548

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 10, 2016 at 19:00:24 in reply to Comment 117573

You persist in behaving petulantly in your comments here. What I clearly said is that some people are making some work commutes via bike share, not your strawman claim that people are selling their cars to use bike share (it's certainly possible that someone may have done that, but I wouldn't expect - and don't claim - that to be a common case). As I wrote on another comment, I own both a car (so much for being "anti-car") and a bike, and yet I find myself using bike share for a significant percentage of my weekly transportation trips. It seems clear to me that bike share does not make sense for you in your present context, but it's really quite petty for you to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge how it is already working well for a great many people - well over 9000 members after just a year, and still growing steadily.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2016-04-10 19:57:58

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2016 at 04:51:41 in reply to Comment 117596

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 20:36:05 in reply to Comment 117596

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2016 at 05:41:46 in reply to Comment 117597

never said anything about selling cars

And I quote: "I think you should do a bit more digging before claiming that people are cashing in their cars for bike rentals."

we didn't exist for hundreds of years prior to the invention of the car

This is really one of the laziest excuses to maintain the status quo of our car-dominated transportation system.

The first European settlement in North American was established in 1498. The first European settlements in Canada were at St. Johns and Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, in 1583. The first incorporated city in Canada was St. John, New Brunswick, in 1631. The first city established in Ontario was Kingston, which grew out of Fort Frontenac in 1673. Windsor was established in 1749 and Cornwall in 1784. Toronto was established in 1793, the same year as Ancaster. Hamilton was established in 1815 and incorporated as a city in 1842.

Meanwhile, the first modern car was invented by Karl Benz in 1879, and cars were first produced on an assembly line by Ransom Olds in 1901. The first moving assembly line was invented by Henry Ford in 1913 - nearly a century after Hamilton was founded.

Cars didn't come to dominate Hamilton streets until mid-century, and that was made possible by retrofitting our existing streets to make them wider - for example, by expropriating the private property on either side of Main Street to expand it to five lanes - and to convert pairs of parallel streets to alternating one-way traffic flows.

Lower city streets were not built for cars, they were rebuilt for cars - and they can be rebuilt again for a more balanced, more inclusive and more sustainable transportation system that makes room for walking, cycling, transit and driving alike.

Not all of us are able to walk, cycle, or take the city bus to work.

Of course not, as I explicitly noted in my previous comment. The problem is that you don't see the value of alternate transportation systems for yourself and then conclude that they can't possibly have value for other people either.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 11, 2016 at 08:09:46 in reply to Comment 117604

Yes, a revolution happened in Hamilton in the post WWII era that led to the city being car-dominated. But have no fear. Other places have had a second revolution to make them people-dominated again.

They did it. We can too.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-04-11 08:10:15

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 10:14:48 in reply to Comment 117548

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 17:59:14 in reply to Comment 117559

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By sobiist (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 07:21:11

I use the service for commuting. It gets me close enough to the b-line bus to make it a viable option, whereas walking to the b-line stop would take too long. I also own a car. Seems like commuting would be the most logical explanation for a spike in sobi rides during peak commuting times. Probably there is a larger spike at 5pm because it includes commuters plus folks just using sobi to run errands after work.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 18:01:07 in reply to Comment 117555

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By Megan (registered) | Posted April 12, 2016 at 09:00:48 in reply to Comment 117576

I have a bike and a bike share membership. They serve different purposes. I drive my kids to daycare and school in the morning and suppose I could strap my bike to the back of the car, but for less than $10/month I can access bikes close to work. Makes running impromptu errands easier too. There are many trips that are short enough that I'd rather not drive on a nice day, but that are too far to walk on a lunch break.

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By dur (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 19:23:21 in reply to Comment 117576

You are going to have a hard time taking bike share down if your plan is to attack it on price one rider at a time. Why not just accept that you don't understand it and move on? No one is making you use it. Live and let live..

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By tootrue (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 09:15:21 in reply to Comment 117579

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By huh? (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:42:34 in reply to Comment 117586

the riders are paying for it. in exactly the same way every user of every mode of transportation pays for their use, through a mix of taxes, user fees, and direct costs.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 19:40:04 in reply to Comment 117579

I agree this guy seems to like being a prick just for the hell of it.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 20:37:20 in reply to Comment 117580

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By sigh (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 21:45:26 in reply to Comment 117598

cut downtowninhamilton some slack people. its really difficult being on the wrong side of history. constantly trying to figure out new ways to not face the overwhelming evidence that your world view is outdated

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 12, 2016 at 18:51:31 in reply to Comment 117600

Yeah, the wrong side of history. That's it. And if my worldview is outdated at my mid 30s, then I can only imagine what the future will bring!

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 22:01:50 in reply to Comment 117600

He has a hate-on for downtown because he sold his house in the lower city years ago and now realizes that he not only lost 100k for selling too early but is now paying a mortgage in a suburban desert instead of living where the action is. It is simply spite masquerading as 'a different point of view'.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 12, 2016 at 18:53:00 in reply to Comment 117602

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Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2016-04-12 18:55:07

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2016 at 20:24:19 in reply to Comment 117665

I am of one who believe SoBi should expand throughout the whole Hamilton metro area eventually, someday.

More about my SoBi+GO commute experience: http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/29...

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 07:22:41

SoBi Hamilton has been active for about 15 months now. It would be interesting to see this kind of data broken into quarterly segments.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 09, 2016 at 18:03:14

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By Porkwarrior (registered) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 00:23:36

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Comment edited by Porkwarrior on 2016-04-10 00:27:03

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By Crap warrior (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2016 at 17:05:28 in reply to Comment 117584

Careful Porkwarrior, the mask is slipping from your identity politics. Tregunno closed (I miss them too) because the family that owned it decided to retire, and the new privately owned business there is mainly office space for small firms, startups, entrepreneurs, freelancers etc - I guess those aren't the right kinds of free enterprise for you.

Oh and the city's contract with SoBi is for 5 years, which means they have another 3+ years to finish becoming self sufficient in operations. So sorry you're offended that they're doing well.

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By reality (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2016 at 08:29:48 in reply to Comment 117584

Zero dollars of municipal taxes go into the program, and the initial funding was pulled from money that the province already gave to Hamilton for alternative transportation but was yet unspent.. Meaning it has zero effect on anybody's tax bill. Look it up before shooting your mouth off

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By MattPinder (registered) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 11:14:32 in reply to Comment 117584

As a recent McMaster grad I acknowledge the frustration of the lack of jobs in Hamilton. But services like the bike share actually have the power to bring back jobs to Hamilton, by making it a more desirable place to live. Case in point, one of the reasons I moved to Hamilton was that the bike share allows me to not own a car, saving a ton of money in the process.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 09:49:08 in reply to Comment 117584

newsflash! Some people choose to live close to their workplace, and when commuting by Sobi means they can park and walk into their workplace about 17 seconds after arriving.

Other people choose to keep moving further and further away from their place of work.

It's a free world. If someone wants to get up at 4am and drive for 3 hours that's their choice.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 20:38:53 in reply to Comment 117590

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By Solutions Please (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 09:29:36 in reply to Comment 117584

"Because all the jobs that aren't dependent on grants or the gov't have been driven out of Hamilton."

And yet you advocate for the status quo which contributed to the above. That's some kind of civic masochism you're packing there. A far too typical self loathing Hamiltonian.

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By Harumph (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 09:14:12 in reply to Comment 117584

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 09:47:20 in reply to Comment 117585

there's only one thing Hamilton spends billions on. Tally up our city hall spending from 1960 until today and get back to us with the most massive government subsidized aspect of life in Hamilton.

Spoiler: safety of residents during transport won't occupy even a sliver of said graph.

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By your right (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 10:48:22 in reply to Comment 117589

The only thing we spend billions on is police, fire and ambulance and other labor costs.

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By infairness (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 09:25:09 in reply to Comment 117585

In fairness they are kinda cute and not very expensive. Like flower boxes. I am ok with that.

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By exactly (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 21:47:29 in reply to Comment 117587

you, of course, are referring to trolls?

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted April 11, 2016 at 08:40:27

i love the bike share and use it often for commuting but without investing in a comprehensive, city-wide cycling infrastructure plan and expanding the geographic reach of the program it's not really going to be a serious consideration as a commuting alternative for most people.

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By Chris the Data Analyst (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2016 at 15:20:10

Lovely data, Ryan. Speaking as one of those who uses SoBi principally (if not exclusively) to commute to and from work, I have no difficulty believing your thesis. And your data supports that thesis quite unambiguously!

I was wondering about your y-axis. Looking across your charts, it looks like the y-axis numbers are sums (totals), rather than averages? What happens to the scale when you average across days? I imagine that (e.g.) those 20K+ rides during 17h and 18h become c. 50-60 rides/day?

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By Tyler (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2016 at 11:30:22

I can be lazy in the morning, so I tend to take the bus from West Hamilton to downtown for work in the morning, but take a SoBi bike home in the afternoon. I also own a car, but my present system costs less than parking downtown, not to mention the raised costs of fuel and insurance if I took my car every day.

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