I approve of this as a stopgap, but a real plan needs to be in place.
Houston’s floundering bike sharing system has a little more life, after city officials approved $500,000 to keep the system operational, at least until a new system for checking out bicycles is in place.
“There are a lot of people who use the service and we don’t want them to lose the service,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
City Council approved the money Wednesday from Houston’s general fund, aimed at giving the nonprofit Houston Bike Share a few more months of funding to keep roughly 60 kiosks and the bikes held there operational. Houston’s planning department will work with the nonprofit to decide how the money will be spent and formalize an agreement with the nonprofit.
Four council members – Mike Knox, Michael Kubosh, Amy Peck and Mary Nan Huffman – opposed committing the money.
“In my view we are investing in a failing corporation,” Knox said.
Turner said a portion of the agreement will be the nonprofit and planning department discussing next steps, especially related to the 90 stations now inoperable around the city and how best to “decommission,” stations if necessary.
For now, officials are balancing how to keep some bikes available while holding out hope some locations can be salvaged in some way.
“I don’t want to give up on the idea of a corporate sponsor for these,” Councilwoman Sallie Alcorn said, while conceding the closed, plastic-wrapped stations pose a challenge.
“They are kind of a sad statement,” she said.
See here and here for more on the state of B-Cycle. As noted in the story, Metro will be introducing its bike share program, which could eventually intersect with whatever B-Cycle still is, if it makes it that long. I do approve of the city’s actions here, but it can’t do this on its own. I hope there are other options out there. We have a limited amount of time to find out.
Also, I disagree with CM Knox. By any reasonable metric, B-Cycle wasn’t a failure – there was plenty of demand for their services. That demand exceeded their ability to provide and fund those services, which is a bad thing to happen but not an indicator of failure. I suspect that in a slightly different economic climate, there would not be any trouble finding sponsors. The question is whether this injection can buy them enough time to do that.
On that score, Houston Landing adds some detail.
In all, City Council approved $540,430 – $500,000 from the city’s general fund and $40,430 from council members Abbie Kamin and Robert Gallegos for stations in their respective districts. It should be enough to keep the existing network operating for about a year, [Houston Bike Share Chairman Neeraj] Tandon said this week. Houston BCycle’s network has shrunk in the past 12 months, from more than 150 stations to around 60. Houston Bike Share has shed staffing and increased prices to keep the program operational.
“We will work out the terms, and I will assign this to Margaret Wallace Brown, the director of planning, to negotiate with planning on the best way to stand up these 60 stations that currently exist as Metro works to stand up its own program,” Turner said Wednesday.
“I think (Metro’s) plan is great,” Tandon said. “It’s a plan that we were looking at doing if only we had the ability to ask for $10 million and have someone vote on it the next week.”
During Metro’s presentation, officials mentioned Houston BCycle, but showed little interest in folding in the existing operations into the agency’s plan, saying it would cost millions to update and repair its equipment.
As a result, Houston could be set up to have two separate bike-share programs with no interconnectivity.
Tandon said the rollout of Metro’s bike-share system could be beneficial to Houston Bike Share if planned correctly. He defined success by the amount of bike-share coverage the city has, and he sees opportunities to share the work that already has been done.
One idea is to hand off some of BCycle’s existing sites to Metro. Houston BCycle has more than 100 stations near Metro transit stations and stops.
Depending on Metro’s plan, Tandon said BCycle could hand off 20 stations a year, matching the agency’s yearly expansion plan.
He said he would like to see Houston Bike Share and Houston BCycle’s staff folded into Metro’s operation, providing expertise and keeping local jobs in the Second Ward.
“Yes, it’s feasible,” Tandon said, while admitting, “It’s going to take a level of communication we haven’t seen yet.”
A year should be plenty of time to either get B-Cycle set up on better footing or smoothly transition it to its end state, whether as part of Metro’s network or being shut down. Now I’m really looking forward to seeing what Metro produces.