Austin bike sharing program rolls out Saturday

Updated Dec 20, 2013

Austin’s red-bike project, a for-pay version of bike sharing that has been more than two years in the making, will debut Saturday.

With 11B-Cycle docking stations and 110 rental three-speed bicycles available downtown and just south of the river, the nonprofit Austin enterprise will be the fourth in Texas. More than 50 U.S. cities and at least 400 worldwide have bike sharing services.

The impact, at least initially, will be modest. B-Cycle Executive Director Elliott McFadden said that based on the performance in similar cities, he expects each bike to be unlocked from a dock and used one to two times a day, meaning the bikes could take 100 to 200 trips daily in the beginning.

“For a first-year average, that would be good,” McFadden said. “We want to do better than that. New York is getting six to seven checkouts per bike.”

Users have two options to pay for the bikes. They can buy an annual membership for $80, and that allows an unlimited number of 30-minute bike checkouts at no cost. Or nonmembers may pay $8, using a major credit card, for a 24-hour pass. In each case, after 30 minutes, a charge of $4 per half-hour kicks in, with a daily maximum of $75.

McFadden expects that most people who check out a bike will ride to another station near their destination and lock it back into a dock before the free period expires. Then, when they want to return to their original destination or go somewhere else, they can take out another bike and get another 30 free minutes.

About 150 people have already signed up for annual memberships. “People are interested,” said McFadden, noting that many people stopped by during the installation of the stations and most seemed unaware that such a service was about to open. “We think that will increase.”

He said there will be a promotional $1 daily rate lasting through Jan. 1.

The 11 stations and their solar-powered payment kiosks are clustered in a smallish area between the Capitol and the South Congress Avenue shopping area. But that will change over the next two months as B-Cycle installs another 30 docking stations and at least an additional 200 bikes. By March 1, McFadden said, the full system should be in place, extending the reach to the University of Texas, East Austin near Plaza Saltillo and Zilker Park.

B-Cycle, the business name of the nonprofit Bike Share for Austin, has been installing and debugging the first 11 stations over the past couple of weeks. The stations will have nine to 19 docks each, depending on the predicted popularity of a location. B-Cycle workers will go from station to station during the day, McFadden said, serving bikes with flats or other problems and making sure that the bikes and open docks remain available throughout the system.

At 40 pounds, the bikes are notably heavier than those generally used on city streets. Helmets, which are not required under city ordinance for people 18 or older in Austin, are not available at the docking stations.

Many of the bikes will feature signs with the name of B-Cycle’s dozen or so founding sponsors, each of whom was granted the right to put a logo on up to 10 bikes. The nonprofit’s initial $2 million in capital funds came from a $1.5 million federal grant and $500,000 from the sponsors.

McFadden expects B-Cycle to have up to $700,000 in operating costs in the first year that will be paid through ongoing sponsorships, membership dues and usage fees. He said Washington’s system by its third year was able to cover its operating costs purely from membership and usage fees.