I want to ride my B-cycle, B-cycle: bike sharing finally comes to Houston
By Alex Wukman Dec 23, 2011 | 5:12PM
After literally decades of complaining by progressives, cycling advocates and inner-loopers Houston City Council did the unthinkable and approved a bike sharing program. The initiative was passed on Wednesday December 21, Council’s last day of business for the year, and will be run by the company B-Cycle, who already have had similar contracts in Denver and Chicago. In 2011 the company began an impressive expansion program in the South and Mid-West, two regions traditionally under-served with bike share programs by adding San Antonio in March, Omaha, Nebraska in June and Broward County, Florida in November. Unlike older, mostly free, bike share programs in Europe and some US cities that, despite their popularity, have become notorious for theft–the version that Houston will be adopting is closer to a rent-a-bike model and will require citizens to register for a B-card or purchase a 24-hour membership at a B-station. Even though the city has yet to release an official fee or rate structure for the program it is safe to assume, based on the way B-Cycle has been implemented in other cities, that Houston will most likely have weekly, monthly and annual options along with a possible senior citizen and student discount. However,the fee structures and service packages implemented in each city differ greatly. Spartanburg, South Carolina offers only the most stripped-down of packages–24 hours, 30 days, Annual, student and senior discount–while Chicago presents consumers with the widest variety–30,60 and 90 prices as well as two separate student rates and a senior discount.
A cursory analysis of the five most commons fees for service shows that the cost of using a B-Cycle for one day can range anywhere from $5 (Broward, Hawaii and Spartanburg) to $10 (San Antonio and Madison, Wisconsin). A seven day fee can range from $16.25 in Boulder, Colorado to $32.10 in Omaha, while an annual fee runs consumers anywhere from $30 (Spartanburg) to $65 (Madison). When student and senior rates are offered they can range from $10 off an annual fee (Spartanburg) to $10 flat (Des Moines and Hawaii) to $48 (San Antonio).
Even though the city hasn’t announced how much it will cost to ride the B-Cycles they have released information about where people will be able to rent one of the bikes. According to a program summary presented to Council (pdf, starts on page 66) Houston’s bike share is a $104,934 pilot program funded by a Climate Showcase Grant from the EPA. The grant pays for the installation of three B-cycle kiosks and the purchase of 18 bicycles. Initially the kiosks will be installed in three areas around downtown: the Jesse Jones Central Library on McKinney, Market Square Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center. The specifications presented to Council do state that two of the kiosks are solar powered and can be relocated as necessary and that “one of the mobile…kiosks will be used at special events to showcase the technology and raise awareness in the community.”
Even though the contract presented to council requires B-Cycle to deliver and install the kiosks, and have a Houston registration website up and running, by late June it failed to address two of the biggest concerns faced by Houston cyclists: safety and security. As anyone who has ridden a bicycle in Houston for any length of time knows bike thefts are incredibly common, so much so that the Texas Medical Center Police Department issues “bike lock report cards” for any bicycles they see and Rice University PD has a policy of taking unsecured bikes found on campus to their police station to prevent theft. While B-Cycle’s tutorial video does explain that unlocking the bike requires a credit card, it doesn’t say what happens if the rented bike isn’t returned within 24 hours or whether you get your $10 back because a crackhead jumped you by the Greyhound station and stole your B-Cycle.