When I first learned of the bike sharing concept, it was an article about the success of the program in Paris a few years ago. The concept is to have street friendly bikes housed at various well placed stations throughout the city, often times near public transport or public square areas. The riders would swipe their credit card each time or buy an annual pass for unlimited use. Once done, the riders would deposit the rented bicycles at the station nearest their destination. So, when my home city of Charlotte, North Carolina decided to bring this concept here, I was excited at our forward thinking and embracing an idea that works.
Per an article by Sarah Ellis of The Charlotte Observer called “Bike sharing program hits high gear in its first year,” the Charlotte B-Cycle program was introduced last summer and the program has far exceeded expectations. The 11,000 plus one-day riders over the year has exceeded expectations by 1600%. The annual membership of 500 riders has also exceeded expectations by 40%. The first year total number of rental trips has tallied 32,000. The program was underwritten by Charlotte Center City Partners, Blue-Cross Blue-Shield of NC and Verizon to get it started and fund some of the initial operation costs. Membership fees provide about 1/3 of the annual operation funding.
Quickly, the B-Cycle program has 200 bicycles and 21 stations in Charlotte. They are planning 25 more bike stations. The annual membership fee is $65 for an adult, with a fee of $15 for a five-month student license. A one day pass is $8. The riders are encouraged to wear a helmet with annual members receiving a helmet with their fee. The maintenance has been minimal thus far and the bike stations are reviewed throughout the day to make sure sufficient numbers of bikes are located throughout the system.
The riders love the program. It has accomplished the task of commuting in way that is much healthier for the person, much healthier for their pocketbook and much healthier for the environment. Plus, one of the riders notes the social impact it has made with fellow riders and pedestrians who applaud what the riders are doing. And, it is being used as part of their commute as well as most of their commute. There are numerous examples of where a bus rider will exit the bus and grab a bike to finish their commute. Then, they would reverse the process on the way home. One rider said the “bikes ride like a Cadillac” and he noted that he does not need to store a bike in his small apartment.
Other cities, per The Charlotte Observer article have begun programs as well. Nashville, Tennessee rolled theirs out last December with 192 bicycles. San Antonio, Texas started up with 472 bicycles. Major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have rolled out bike sharing programs as well. Even small programs have started in smaller cities. Charlotte is one of 18 cities that has B-Cycle programs, so the program is contagious. While traveling in Montreal a couple of years ago, we saw a program there as well.
This is one great example where an idea that spawned abroad has been copycatted here in the states. Great ideas are contagious and I hope this one creates an epidemic of bike riders and B-Cycle programs. The Executive Director, Dianna Ward, is even more bullish saying “Charlotte is an example of a major Southeastern city that has taken the bike-share challenge and become an example (to other cities).” Ward adds, “It’s going to be contagious.”
Note: The quotes, data and principal theme come from Sarah Ellis’s article noted above.