Big data tracks bike spenders

Researchers have began using sophisticated analysis of credit card spending patterns to see whether more people on bikes means more or less spending in shops.

Around the world, and especially in Australia, many bike infrastructure projects are fiercely opposed by retailers because they think that more bikes and less car parking means fewer cars and dwindling numbers of customers.

Yet there has never been any evidence to show that this is true.

Now researchers are using powerful computer analysis of our credit card records to find out who is spending money, and where.

Don’t worry, the records are anonymised, so no-one will ever know about your excessive taste in jelly beans.

A team from New York University’s Center for Urban Science + Progress used Mastercard data to discover that food outlets located near bike share stations had a modest, but definite bump in sales volumes after bike share was introduced in Brooklyn and Jersey City.

Restaurants not located near the stations did not have an increase, and some decreased.

The researchers used a Mastercard tool that was designed to identify the performance of various retail locations.

As more data becomes publicly accessible, and more tools are developed, researchers will be able to drill down further into spending patterns.

As this work goes on, other economic studies continue to trickle out that show that generally retail indicators go up when bike lanes go in and car parking gets reduced.

Even simple measures such as footfall – the number of customers entering a shop – goes up.

The theory is that people will linger and shop in more pleasant, low-car environments. Sounds about right.

The good news is that when authorities persist, and make the changes in the face of retailer resistance, the opposition soon dissipates.

The credit card records are telling a compelling story.