B-Cycle’s reprieve runs out

Sad to see it go.

Houston’s long-struggling system of on-demand bicycles is reaching the end of the trail.

BCycle, the system of kiosks with available bikes spread around downtown, Midtown and other locations will close June 30, officials with the nonprofit that operates it said.

“Despite our efforts, Houston Bike Share, the nonprofit operator, has been unable to secure the necessary funding and leadership to sustain operations,” the group said.

In a letter sent earlier this month to partners, the chairman of the nonprofit’s board, Neeraj Tandon, said working with the city all the BCycle stations around the city could be removed by Sept. 15.


BCycle, popular with recreational riders along Houston’s bayou trails and within downtown, grew from a pilot of three stations and a dozen bikes in the central business district to more than 100 locations offering more than 700 bicycles, 100 of them electric pedal-assisted bikes.

That growth, however, strained resources for the nonprofit that had to maintain and distribute bikes around the area. Offering daily, monthly and annual passes, as well as fees for use of the bikes for extended periods of time, were never enough to cover costs. Grants and corporate sponsorships covered some of the deficit, but as the system grew and the pandemic altered funding, the nonprofit found itself underwater.

“Bike share systems across the United States have experienced similar challenges,” said Jennifer Ostlind, interim director of Houston’s Planning and Development Department, in a statement. “Houston’s system has outlived many others, but we have learned that successful systems that serve more than just recreational purposes require corporate and public support to remain viable.”

See here for the previous update. A copy of the letter is embedded above. I was a member of B-Cycle for several years. It was most useful to me when I worked downtown, for going places that were too far to walk but not convenient to the train. It’s an amenity that made Houston a little easier to navigate and a little more attractive to visitors and people who were considering a job here versus a job somewhere else, in the same way that parks and theaters and restaurants do. Whether you personally used it or not, its loss makes Houston a little less vibrant. Perhaps someday we’ll get a replacement for it; as the story notes, other cities have had similar issues with their bike shares, a problem that was undoubtedly exacerbated by the pandemic. It will likely be a few years before a workable business model is clear.

B-Cycle performed another service, which was an extension of the transit system. Metro went a different direction to implement its own bike share system, but not much has happened since then. Houston Public Media adds some details on that.

METRO’s board of directors voted last September to spend $10 million on a five-year bike-sharing contract with Quebec-based PBSC Urban Solutions. But it is unclear whether the transit agency, which has since undergone leadership changes, is moving forward with that plan.

METRO did not comment Friday on the status of the arrangement.

Jordan Levine, a spokesperson for PBSC Urban Solutions, indicated in a statement that a deal could still materialize.

“As a bike share equipment provider with experience in more than 50 cities globally we are confident we are the right team to help METRO deliver Harris County a world-class bike share program,” Levine said. “Our team is eager to get to work in order to ensure there are no gaps in service for riders.”

Joe Cutrufo, the executive director of cycling advocacy nonprofit BikeHouston, urged the transit agency to proceed with the deal as planned. He said there are Houston residents and visitors alike who have relied on the bike-sharing network for their daily transportation needs.

“METRO’s board voted unanimously last year to invest in a state-of-the-art bike share system because they understood that it can expand the footprint of the transportation system by providing easy first- and last-mile access,” Cutrufo said. “That’s squarely in line with the new chair’s focus on attracting new riders.”


A spokesperson for Houston Mayor John Whitmire, who was elected in December and appointed some of the new board members for METRO, did not immediately respond to an email Friday seeking to determine whether he would support a new bike share system. His administration has been critical of infrastructure projects that expand bicycle lanes at the expense of vehicle lanes, a departure from the tenure of his predecessor, Sylvester Turner, whose administration extended the aforementioned $500,000 lifeline to BCycle.

[James Llamas, the vice chair for the BCycle board] said it’s “really unfortunate” that Houston will soon be the largest city in the U.S. without a bike share network. About 80 stations are expected to remain open through the end of June, after which the city-owned BCycle equipment will be removed and sold.

“I think we’ve demonstrated that Houston has an appetite or bike share and it can be successful even in a relatively low-density, auto-oriented city,” Llamas said. “We hope there can be a solution worked out so some form of bike-sharing can continue.”

I think there’s zero chance that this Metro board moves forward with that contract. I do think that it would help expand ridership, but I don’t believe the current Metro leadership cares all that much about it. There’s a lot that will need to be done when we next have the opportunity to do it.

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