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Friday, September 21, 2012

Do Cyclists Make Better Customers?

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 10:14 AM

Businesses in Portland and around the country sometimes push back against bike and pedestrian projects because they think removing space from cars will hurt their businesses. Customers who bike, walk, or take transit to bars, restaurants, and markets are a drop in the bucket, right?

A new study shows that people who walk and bike are actually more valuable as customers to bars, restaurants, and convenience stores, spending more per person each month than people who walk, drive, or take transit to the establishments. Meanwhile, for supermarkets, people who arrive by car are the most valuable customers.

Portland State University civil engineering professor Kelly Clifton presented her super interesting report at city hall yesterday. She and some assistants spent five months interviewing Portlanders at local supermarkets, convenience stores, bars, and restaurants, about how they got to their destination, how much they spent, and some other details.

Over the course of a month, Professor Clifton found, people who bike to restaurants, bars, and convenience stores spend more money than people who arrive via car, transit, or their own two feet. This doesn't mean that those businesses make the majority of their money off cyclists—in many cases, most customers still arrive by car. But the ones who go out by bike often spend more money per person over time.


Why do cyclists spend more? Well, the study points out a couple key factors that determine how much cash people drop when they're out. For bars and restaurants, having kids at home means someone will likely spend $4 less at the bar per trip, for example, while they'll spend about $1 more for every $10,000 in income they make (also, strangely, if it's a Mexican restaurant, people will spend more money than at anywhere else). If they're there with a large group, they'll spend more; if they're a regular who stops by a few times a week, they'll spend less. But it could be that people who don't own cars have more disposable income to spend on tacos and beer since we're not shelling out $5,000 a year in car upkeep.

They study also points out some crucial infrastructure factors that influence how many customers arrive to bars, convenience stores, and restaurants by bike. Installing a bike corral increases the number of biking customers by six percent. Every mile a business is away from a low-traffic bike-friendly street decreases number of its biking customers by 5.5 percent.

The picture is different at supermarkets. People spend way more than four times as much money at supermarkets every month than they do at bars, restaurants, or corner stores, and buying all your food by foot, bike, or bus poses the obvious challenge of needing to haul your purchases home. People do drive to the market spend significantly more money there over the course of a month than people who get to the store by any other mode (roughly $440 for car-drivers compared to $300 per month for transit riders).

But it's important to understand that the study doesn't show that people's mode of travel is the reason why they spend less or more at any place. People who bike to bars don't necessarily spend more money there because they biked, it could have to do with the demographics of who's biking.

When researchers control for income—meaning, looking at how people spend money regardless of how much money they make—different patterns emerge. Regardless of income, people who walk to bars and restaurants spend more money on every visit than any other customers, people who walk or take transit to convenience stores spend less money per trip, and people who bike or walk to the supermarket spend more money per trip.

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