Why did you select the community bike systems as your research area? Was it because of environment protection or because you love cycling?
Every now and then I also use the MOL Bubi bikes, but I would rather say that environment protection is very important to me, I think there should be more air and less noise pollution in Budapest. The most attractive aspect, however, is that the so-called micromobility devices – bicycles, as well as scooters, electric scooters, motor scooters – mean a highly innovative means of transport, and a whole industry emerged for shared transport. Community bike systems are connected to large cities, and our studies examined how external factors from outside the transport system impacted bike-sharing. One of these was, for instance, the impact of the Covid 19 epidemic, the big lockdown on bike-sharing. We were able to observe two factors of opposite directions: the lockdown and the spread of work from home reduced transport demands, and that would have reduced the number of people cycling even if everything else remains the same. On the other hand, the other impact was that when people did have to go somewhere, they preferred cycling or driving a car, as they were afraid of the infection, and did not want to travel with other people. As a result of all that, the number of people using the public transport dropped dramatically. Naturally, it was also important that parking was free everywhere in that period, and the price of the monthly pass for the MOL Bubi was only HUF 100, which is a symbolic amount. Unfortunately, one of the winners of the epidemic was the use of cars, but it is a positive feature that micromobility, i.e. using bikes and scooters also increased.
I suppose this was similar in other large cities of the world.
Surprisingly, it was not! In London, for instance, much less people used the community bikes during the Covid 19. I have not done exact research about the reasons, but it may have been influenced by people’s financial standing (how many of them can afford driving a car), and how many people can work from home, so to what extent transport demands decline.
As far as I know, you examined the impacts of another important event, the FINA on bike-sharing.
Yes, in that case, we examined the turnover of new MOL Bubi stations set up for the world aquatics championship in Budapest. In the period of the competition, these new stations were nicely integrated into the network, but after the end of the FINA, their utilisation was lower than that of the new stations built in the southern part of Budapest Perhaps the system should have been extended at other places; it is worth considering where the new stations should be built. In the meantime, of course, technology also advances, and now it is possible to set up so-called pop-up stations, which can be closed after the given event. Data collection is also very important, the more information we have on travelling habits, the more logically we can build the community bike system, i.e. we can make better decisions. This also refers to major reforms in the public transport of the capital, where the temporarily terminated service (e.g. tram, underground) is replaced by an another means of transport. This means that an important, even if temporary change in one element of the system has an impact on the whole transport system.
In the researches, the exit of Uber is also mentioned, as well as its effects on bike-sharing.
As to the exit of Uber from Budapest, we found interesting results: while experiencing a decline in the case of the regular users of the MOL Bubi – who have monthly passes – after the exit of Uber, the number of ad hoc users increased. This proves that people always adjust to the current situation, and a lot of people combine the various means of transport. For example, you use the MOL Bubi to go to a bar, but return with Uber. After the termination of Uber, you may drive your own car to the location of the party, and use a driver service to go home, or use the public transport there and back.
Are you of the opinion that everybody should use the community bike service?
No, not at all, the capacities of the MOL Bubi would not allow for that. Presently, among public transport, own car, walking and micromobility, the last one has the lowest share in the modal split in Budapest. In the case of the MOL Bubi, approx. 350 thousand trips are registered in summer, but in winter (obviously because of the weather) this number drops to approx. 120 thousand, while 3.3 million trips are made every day with buses in Budapest. It is certain, however, that bike-sharing is a key element of the transport of the future, but this will require certain conditions: the station should be at a good location (e.g. you should be able to change for public transport within a short distance), and it should be not only exercise, but the use of the system should be a good experience for the bikers. So a lot depends on the consumer experience, too: MOL Bubi was renewed in 2021, pedalling is now easier, the related application is simpler and better to use, and the network of stations is continuously extended. One of the great advantages of bike-sharing is that you can return the bike; this is good especially for people who are unable to store a bike at home. However, we have to accept the fact that not everybody likes these bikes, some people prefer to use their own bikes. In other words, bike-sharing is an important element of the transport of the future, but it will not reform transport completely. This is a small and narrow market, but very popular.
Who helped you in your work at the University?
In these researches, I worked together with several researchers, primarily with Barna Bakó and Péter Isztin, while Petra Cseke, Kristóf Nagy and Enikő Vígh co-authored certain articles. In addition, I wish to say thank you to the BKK, too, where our work was supported all the way, we have had several joint projects. I enjoy researching in academic areas, at the Corvinus, because here I feel more freedom in the selection of the topic, there is no pressure that the result of the research should bring immediate yield and return financially, like in the case of a profit-oriented company.