METRO may take over Houston’s bike-sharing program



A Houston BCycle bike stands near a METROrail station in downtown Houston.

Houston’s ten-year-old bike-sharing program is broken and in need of repair.

A regional public transportation provider is considering whether to step in and save the non-profit – with the possibility that it could take over the bikeshare and make it a more viable option for commuting rather than primarily leisure.

Next Thursday, the Harris County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (METRO) board will vote on whether to partner with Houston BCycle, which has run into financial trouble after growing to 153 stations and over 1 million users a year since its inception. created by the City of Houston in 2012. METRO CEO Tom Lambert said the bus and light rail provider, with board approval, is investing up to $500,000 in a bike-sharing program over 6 to 9 months, exploring how their transportation offerings can complement and connect with each other. with friend.

“They’re coming to help us fix our flat tire,” said Maya Ford, chairman of the board and interim program director for BCycle. “They look at our gears, they check our brakes, and we want it. We really need it.”

Lambert said METRO, which is upgrading and expanding its transportation infrastructure and services with a $3.5 billion pledge from Harris County voters in 2019, is already tied to the bike-sharing service in some ways, such as equipping its buses with bike racks in 2017, when the city adopted the Houston Bike Plan and began expanding its bike lane network. METRO is interested in potentially taking over bikeshare management and customizing it to further align with its services, such as placing BCycle stations at bus stops to help public transport users get from home to bus stop or from bus stop to work. , according to Lambert.

Lambert said there is also potential to expand the BCycle network, in which users pay for one-time traditional or electric bike rides throughout Greater Houston’s METRO service area, which will help improve transport equity across the region. All existing BCycle stations are within loop 610.

“We must use every opportunity to move people safely and efficiently in this region,” Lambert said. “We are looking at actually connecting (bike-share programs) to the regional network that we have been building for years and will continue to build in the future.”

Lambert said there are examples in other cities, such as Austin and Los Angeles, where public transit providers include bike rentals as part of their service.

METRO’s idea to do the same is supported by BikeHouston, a not-for-profit cycling advocacy organization with about 12,000 members.

“Bicycle sharing is an important part of the transportation system,” said Joe Cutrufo, CEO of BikeHouston. “If we’re serious about helping Houstonians get from point A to point B without a car, then that’s not a problem.”

Ford said Houston BCycle has turned to METRO and others for help after running a deficit of about $200,000 between its operating expenses and revenue each of the past two years. The bike-sharing program peaked at 1 million users per year in 2020, coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but ridership has since dropped by about 30 percent.

Private donations have also dwindled, Ford said, and many bikes, racks and software bought a decade ago have started to fail sooner than expected. It all culminated in Houston BCycle temporarily shutting down about half of its stations at the end of last year in an attempt to cut costs.

These stations remain closed, with the remaining 75 or so stations concentrated in and around the city center. Both Ford and Lambert have said they expect work to continue through the upcoming transition and trial period, with per-use prices remaining the same.

Ford said that many regular BCycle users were understandably “crazy” about the station closings. But she said it was a way to stay afloat while learning ways to improve her operations and financial situation.

If METRO’s board of directors votes against the partnership proposal, Ford said, BCycle could be forced out of business entirely. But she hopes that METRO will join her and fill the organization with their excellent experience and resources.

“This is the best option for us to stay open and find solutions,” Ford said. “We just want it to thrive, to work for people, we want it to be predictable, and we want people to have options beyond their single-seat cars,” Ford said. “This is the best option for us to stay open and find solutions.”

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