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Wednesday October 16th 2019

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That's what she said

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Bike Rentals Aimed at Replacing Car Trips


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Early cyclists at the corner of 13th and Spruce Streets circa 1890 (Carnegie Library)

B-Cycle plans to start operating in Boulder on May 20, 2011, but before that happens it needs to raise $650,000 in capital, Elizabeth Train, one of Boulder B-Cycle’s three current staff members, disclosed at a PLAN-Boulder forum on January 24.

At the outset B-Cycle intends to provide 200 sturdy bicycles based at 25 stations in central Boulder from 6th Street to 30th Street for short-term use at a reasonable charge.  Customers will be required to buy a membership  at $5 per day or $50 per year.  After they become members, they may use a bicycle for up to one hour for free and after that at a charge of $4 per half hour. Visa, Mastercard, American Express or B-Cycle cards can be used for payment.

Train claimed that B-Cycle does not want to compete with bicycle rental shops in Boulder; and she asserted that it won’t, because the rental shops’ rates will be cheaper for the longer periods of time that most tourists would need to use a bicycle, but more expensive for the short stints that they usually would not demand. She said that B-Cycle is aimed at current residents of Boulder, in-commuters, and tourists who may want a bicycle in the central part of the city for short trips. B-Cycle’s time charges will start when a bicycle is removed from a station and end when it is returned to one. Train declared that more than 40 percent of Americans’ auto trips extend over only two miles or less.

The B-Cycle bicycles will be manufactured by Trek. Each will be durable and equipped with three gears, nearly puncture-proof tires, and a basket capable of holding 20 pounds. They will be very hard to extract from a station unless a valid credit card is used. A customer who fails to return a bicycle will be charged $1,000.

B-Cycle currently provides equipment and certain services to bike-sharing programs in Minneapolis, Denver, Des Moines, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Montreal. A for-profit corporation, it is based in Waterloo, Wisconsin. The organizations that actually run the programs in those cities, and will run it in Boulder, are local, non-profit and tax-exempt.

Train said that Boulder B-Cycle was selected by the city to provide bike-sharing in Boulder because of its response to a request for proposals. The city has either pledged or given $300,000 to Boulder B-Cycle. The initial capital requirement for Boulder B-Cycle is $1.1 million. Boulder B-Cycle expects to raise the additional funds it needs from gifts and grants, sponsorships, advertising, and yearly memberships. She said it is striving for 3,000 yearly members.

Train reported that the B-Cycle program in Denver had 103,000 trips in its first year, only one stolen bicycle, and only one flat tire.

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5 Responses to “Bike Rentals Aimed at Replacing Car Trips”

  1. Fenno Hoffman says:

    This sounds like a cool thing, but each bike will cost Boulder taxpayers about $5,500.00, plus usage charges and we pay the B-Cycle corporation even if nobody rents the bikes. Has a feasibility study been done? Is this solving a problem efficiently?

    B-Cycle provides bike-sharing programs in “Minneapolis, Denver, Des Moines, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Montreal,” all big cities, nothing like suburban Boulder. Are there any places like Boulder where bike sharing has a track record?

    Denver’s program reports 103,000 trips in the first year, but Denver households make MILLIONS of trips every DAY and almost a BILLION trips a year! 103,000 trips are only 0.0105% of that total – about 1 in a thousand trips. Of these, who used the bikes and for what?

    It sounds like a nice idea, but…Boulder doesn’t have any density like LoDo. We aren’t anything like any of the cities with these programs. 1 in a 1,000 seems like a very small reward for a over a million bucks. Does it make economic sense?

    • Elizabeth Train says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Fenno. Let me clarify: Boulder taxpayers aren’t part of the financial equation here. The funding the City of Boulder is providing (roughly $300,000) is part of a federal grant, and the rest of the start-up funds needed are being raised through a capital campaign. You are correct, Boulder is blazing the trail (in the US, anyway) for bike sharing in small communities, so we don’t yet know what the return on investment will be. But we’re optimistic–there’s no question that a bike share system in Boulder will reduce VMT, help with parking and traffic congestion downtown, and, perhaps most importantly, introduce people to the freedom and ease of getting around by bike.

  2. Fenno Hoffman says:

    Oops, that Denver bike fraction is closer to 1 in 10,000 trips.

  3. […] The Blue Line noted that Boulder B-cycle, “does not want to compete with bicycle rental shops in Boulder.” […]

  4. Jessica Wittmer says:

    I think Fenno makes some very good points. Federal tax-dollars aren’t “free” money, and most of us pay federal as well as local taxes. Has B-Cycle studied the demand in Boulder for such a service? Everyone I know who lives here already has a bike, and those who can participate in a program like Community Cycles. B-Cycle sounds like a very expensive way to finance a for-profit company’s tourist bike rental service.

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