Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to extend a half-million dollar lifeline to the city’s nonprofit bike share program, he said Wednesday.
Turner said he will present City Council next week with a proposal to send funding to Houston Bike Share, which runs the BCycle program that offers bicycles for use from stations around the city.
“I am going to be recommending that we provide an additional half million in funding to transition them forward, because I don’t want the end-user to lose,” Turner said. “I think it would be a loss for the end-users, for others, if the service were to completely stop.”
Turner’s proposal essentially would keep on life support a transportation program that has fallen on hard times in recent years after going through a citywide growth spurt.
At-large Council member Sallie Alcorn said she strongly supported the mayor’s proposal, adding it was a shame the system has trimmed down the number of working stations. She said the Houston Chronicle op-ed should serve as a wake-up call for corporate donations.
“I really think the article was a good push for getting some corporate involvement. I mean, we’re the fourth-largest city in the country,” she said.
Joe Cutrufo, executive director of BikeHouston, said Turner’s proposal was in-line with the “transportation paradigm shift” the mayor has pushed forward over the last eight years.
“We’re glad to see the mayor putting emphasis on people getting around without a car,” Cutrufo said, adding, “Bike share is important. Without a bike share system, we become less multimodal.”
Cutrufo cautioned the measure would be a stopgap, and the injection of funding would not sustain the program without further investment.
“To have a reliable bike share system requires reliable sources of revenue,” he said. “In absence of a major corporate partner or a local transit system, bike share requires some level of (government) subsidy.”
Turner said he had spoken to both METRO and the city’s planning department about options for keeping the program alive.
Neeraj Tandon, [Houston Bike Share]’s chairman, welcomed the announcement.
“We will make effective use of the proposed funds to continue operation of a limited network,” he said in a statement on behalf of the nonprofit. “Meanwhile, we will continue to seek partners to maintain and reopen additional stations.”
The system uses BCycle, which provides the bikes, computer system and kiosks where users can check out a bike and then return it to any operational station. Users typically have the bike for 30 minutes for $5. Monthly and annual memberships come with a free hour or use, then incur fees after. E-bikes are available for additional fees.
It costs about $7,500 annually to operate a BCycle station, based on the nonprofit’s previous spending, meaning the city’s commitment could cover about 66 stations for the next year, or roughly resurrect the entire system for a few months.
About 50 stations are operational, after reductions began late last year, mostly in the downtown core and select parks, down from a peak of 153.
Metro, which earlier this year approved its own $500,000 commitment but then did not provide that directly to the nonprofit, said its focus on bringing the system into its operations will be more centered on linking the bikes to transit stops.
What exactly that could look like for users, however, remains unclear months later. Metro has said that could include its operation of BCycle kiosks near transit stops, or an entirely new system. Both of those scenarios leave open the chance someone else could sponsor and maintain other stops, or operate entirely independently.
Under current city laws, BCycle and only BCycle equipment can be placed in the city right of way. Dockless bikes and scooters, common in other cities, cannot be in public areas.
I’m still bummed that the Metro thing didn’t come together, but it looks like there’s still room for a partial partnership to happen. It seems to me that it would make a lot of sense for Metro to use existing infrastructure and inventory for its project rather than start from scratch, but as always the details matter. If something can be worked out for that, it would be great. If this story and the city’s contribution spurs some further sponsorships, even better. Honestly, I’d love to see Harris County step up as well. Whatever the case, I’m glad that execution has been stayed for B-Cycle. Now we need to get it back to something like full operations again.