Hopes for a much-needed infusion of cash from a new partnership with Metro have yet to be fulfilled, leading Houston Bike Share to warn users that prices will increase and the number of available stations will shrink, starting May 1.
The nonprofit that operates the BCycle system of bikes available for checkout at kiosks around the city, “has been unable to complete a partnership agreement,” with Metropolitan Transit Authority, bike share board chairwoman and interim CEO Maya Ford said in an update. Specifically, Ford said Metro has confirmed it would not provide any of the $500,000 transit officials approved to transition bike sharing into the transit agency’s operations.
Metro officials said the intent never was a commitment to provide funds directly to the nonprofit, and instead intended for its own transition to create a system.
“This was not meant to be a bailout,” Metro board chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran said, noting transit leaders still want to work through the process and keep some bike sharing active as it transitions into the agency.
Absent the funding to continue operations as they are, with the once-robust system already only allowing use at half its stations, the number of open kiosks will shrink further, Ford said. Also May 1, prices will increase to $5 per 30 minute for single trips, $7 per 30 minutes for e-bikes, and $25 per month for monthly membership fees.
That is $2 more per half-hour for both conventional and electric bikes, and a $12 jump in the monthly membership.
The only stations in operation after further consolidation will be those in downtown Houston, in local parks where use has been popular and stations that have financial support from the Midtown Management District.
“We could potentially reduce the network to as few as 40 stations,” said Remy Vogt, community outreach manager for Houston Bike Share. “We are in talks with the city and neighborhood management districts to reopen currently suspended stations and maintain service to other stations in the network. Only the stations that are supported through ridership revenue or service fee agreements will remain open.”
“Our intent has been to work with Houston Bike Share on a transitional window as Metro creates a bike sharing program, and not simply hand over $500,000,” Metro spokesman Jerome Gray said in an email.
The first step in Metro paying for anything or reimbursing the nonprofit is having an agreement and the proper paperwork in place, Ramabhadran said, noting that Metro’s taxpayer-generated money comes with a lot of conditions.
“We have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s,” he said. “We cannot just hand over taxpayer money. It is not a blank check.”
Metro officials say they still are assessing the system and developing a plan for the new bike share program. Officials have said the aim, once it is a part of Metro, is to provide convenient connections to transit or small trips between where someone can easily walk and the choice of driving or transit.
“By no means is this conversation closed,” Ramabhadran said of the partnership with Houston Bike Share, including Metro covering some costs or assuming responsibility for some operations. “But it has to work within the limitations of what a public agency can do.”
See here, here, and here for the background. I suppose I had over-interpreted what the pending Metro partnership would mean. I’m still hopeful for what it can mean, and I still believe B-Cycle will be able to rebound, though it may take some time. We’re doing so much better on ways to get around by bike, I hate the idea that it will be available to fewer people. We need more of this, not less. But this is where we are right now.