Officials gear up Ann Arbor for bike share

By Yardain Amron, For the Daily
Published September 18, 2013

The end of winter term may seem an eternity away, but come springtime, Ann Arbor is aiming to have its own bike share program for public use.

With the Ann Arbor City Council’s approval last month to partner with Clean Energy Coalition — a nonprofit that promotes clean energy technologies — funding for Phase 1 of the program fell into place. The question now remains whether the program will have similar success to the fast-growing number of bike share programs popping up across the country.

To use the system — which is tentatively scheduled to open on April 1, 2014 — riders must first buy a membership, with rates ranging from $60 annually, $20 weekly or $5 daily.

These fees allow members to swipe a membership card at any station, where they can ride free of charge for up to 30 minutes. For every subsequent half-hour, a yet to be determined usage fee is charged to the member’s account. Bikes can be returned to any station on campus.

Steve Dolen, the University’s executive director of parking and transportation services, said officials have discussed the possibility of linking B-cycle membership to the Mcard system, but that is low on the priority list compared to getting the system up and running.

The collected fees will go toward the estimated $1.55-million, three-year pilot cost, according to the CEC. There will be 14 stations — accommodating a total of 125 bikes — during the pilot phase. The CEC and Ann Arbor are jointly covering $750,000 in initial costs, while the University will provide $600,000 toward the $800,000 estimated operational costs. Usage fees are expected to cover the $200,000 difference.

Initially planned to launch fall 2013, Dolen said the program should hopefully come to fruition in April. If the electrical and siting requirements are not worked out before the winter, however, Dolen said the program’s start date could be pushed back to summer 2014.

“There’s all kinds of hurdles, and that’s probably why we’re a little further from implementation than we originally wanted to be,” he said.

CEC hired B-cycle, a bicycle sharing company that has operations in 18 U.S. cities, to provide the stations, bicycles and operating systems. The 14 stations will house six to 12 “blue bikes” fashioned with a front basket, automatic front and rear lights, chain lock and internal RFID and GPS. The GPS enables B-cycle to record data on member and bike usage, including location.

B-cycle’s website allows users to track distance, duration, calories burned and carbon offset during bike rides. It also has a section titled “B-effect,” which can calculate energy and cost savings of bicycle usage in a given community.

Aaron Champion, CEC project manager and coordinator for the Detroit area, said with Ann Arbor’s size, all 14 locations would be located between a quarter-mile and a half-mile of each other.

“The literature has been pretty clear in showing that, especially with bus stops and transit stops, people aren’t really inclined to walk more than a quarter-mile,” Champion said.

Stations will primarily be located downtown and on Central Campus — with a single station on North Campus — and will provide service to both student and resident markets.

“That’s the beautiful thing — because the University of Michigan is a truly urban campus, there is no distinction as far as the stations are concerned,” Champion said. “You’re going to get excellent coverage for both of those markets.”

The University of Colorado–Boulder, which has also partnered with B-cycle, provided a blueprint for CEC in decisions regarding Ann Arbor’s program, as the square mileage, population and climate of the two cities are roughly comparable.

According to a press release from Boulder’s B-cycle branch, the Boulder bike share program began with 12 stations and 100 bikes back in 2011, and will have an additional 20 stations by the end of fall 2013. Boulder B-cycle estimates that 50 stations, for a total of 500 bikes, would allow for a sustainable bike-share system.

But similarity does not guarantee success, as the University learned during its first bike-sharing attempt in the ‘80s. Ann Arbor resident Bill Loy, who has been the owner of the long-standing Campus Student Bike Shop for 50 years, remembers the time clearly.

“They tried that once already,” Loy said. “It was called a ‘Green Bike.’ They just trashed them.”

“Green Bike” was a failed campus initiative where a fleet of green bikes was placed at various locations across campus for student use, Loy said. But without locks or maintenance, the green bikes disappeared or rusted away.

“There’s too much on bikes — I’ve been at it a long time — too much maintenance,” Loy said. “They need service. I have 300 rentals, and I have to service them all the time.”

“It’ll wreck my business,” he added.

But 30 years later, the CEC’s plan is more elaborate, and students seem supportive. LSA sophomore Lea Ono, who can’t transport her bike from her home in New York sees the bike program as a solution to an out-of-state problem.

“I’m not the only one in this situation, a lot of out-of-state students feel the same way, or international students,” Ono said. “I think I would use it. I would want to bike for fall (and) spring.”

“My only concern is storing a bike and with a bike share program, you don’t have to worry about that,” she added.

Correction appended: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated the type of card required to use the bike share system.