At Houston Bike Share, the nonprofit agency that runs the BCycle system, we’ve been working to find new funding for more than a year. We’ve made tough decisions, suspending stations and raising prices. And now, in the face of a major cash crunch, we plan to shut down the operation completely in the next two months.
This breaks our hearts.
As volunteer directors on the board, we have helped set the direction of bike share in Houston throughout much of the organization’s history. We’d like to share the back story on how we got to this point and offer thoughts on how bike share in Houston can get back on a roll.
During the 2020 COVID pandemic, Houstonians flocked to bicycling and BCycle for safe, socially distanced fitness, recreation and transportation. Our annual ridership peaked at over 300,000 trips.
Unfortunately high ridership came at a price: Our operating costs grew. By 2022 we were operating over 150 stations, and ridership was steady at nearly a quarter million annual rides. But with a network more heavily focused on transportation, rather than recreation, revenue did not keep pace. Sponsorships dried up. Meanwhile, our bikes and stations were aging and required more maintenance and repair.
In October 2022 we sounded the alarm: This wasn’t sustainable. We convened our largest partners (the City of Houston, Harris County, and METRO) to devise a strategy. The METRO board agreed to create a partnership that included interim funding to sustain operations but later decided to not collaborate with us, and instead published a request for proposals to establish their own, much smaller bike share system.
Despite our best efforts to identify a source of long-term funding to support Houston Bike Share, we have been unsuccessful. Over the past year we have approached government, corporations and philanthropies. Most have not responded to our requests.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done with Houstonians over the past 11 years to provide a healthy, affordable transportation option. We proved that there is demand for bike share in Houston when it’s offered at a nominal cost.
But our experience has also shown that rental fees alone can’t support a robust bike share system here. It requires ongoing support, similar to the support taxpayers provide to fund mass transit.
See here, here, and here for some background. I hate to hear this, because I think B-Cycle has been a valuable addition to the city. I will hold out hope that they can still be saved. It sounds like what happened here was more an unfortunate confluence of events and not any real failures.
We’ve done a good job in recent years expanding our non-car transportation infrastructure. Using a form of bike share to extend the Metro network makes a lot of sense, but I can see how the existing B-Cycle installation was more than they needed and not the best fit where there was overlap. I’m interested to see what Metro develops, but I still think it’s a shame that they couldn’t adapt B-Cycle for their purposes. It’s a net loss overall.
UPDATE: Here’s a news story about the shutdown that mostly recapitulates the op-ed.