Organizers of Houston’s bike-sharing program are excited about an increase in use of the community bicycles since 18 new kiosks around downtown and midtown opened.
After slow-going last year for the B-Cycle program, use of the bikes increased since the weekend, when word that many of the new stations were open spread on social media sites.
“We have skyrocketed in checkouts,” said Laura Spanjian, Houston’s sustainability director “Like a 300 percent increase in the last 72 hours.”
A celebration of the installations is scheduled Wednesday at City Hall. Cyclists will ride in from the various kiosks and gather at noon for the weekly farmer’s market.
Now 175 bikes
The recent additions expanded Houston’s bike sharing network from three stations and 18 bikes in February to 21 stations and 175 bikes as of Wednesday. Three more stations and more bikes are planned next month, completing the second phase. A $750,000 deal with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas paid for the expansion and operations.
The bikes are available to anyone with a daily, weekly or annual pass, and passes can be purchased from the kiosks where the bikes are locked, starting with a $5 day pass. Rides are free for the first 60 minutes, after which additional rental charges apply.
Houston bikes initially were free for 90 minutes, but the time was lowered with the expansion. Annual passes also increased from $50 to $65, although officials are offering them for $40 through Wednesday.
Even with the added costs and restrictions, Houston’s program is more generous than those in other cities, officials said.
“You’ll see any of the bike programs that have more than 20 stations – they are going to limit that time to 30 minutes,” said Will Rub, director of Houston’s program.
The additional kiosks and bikes require a full-time mechanic and daily oversight to keep bikes evenly distributed among the stations, officials said.
Already, some of the new locations are seeing surprising growth, Rub said.
The station at Sabine Street and Memorial Drive, at the bridge where some of the city’s best skyline photos are snapped, is seeing immense use, he said.
B-Cycles were spotted in the Tour De Houston, and more are dotting restaurant patios downtown during lunch.
Many of the stations are seeing brisk use because of downtown office workers looking for a way to exercise at lunch, said Wes Piper, 28.
“It’s good to be able to get out and ride,” said Piper, who sometimes bicycles to work from the Heights. “I’m glad they’re doing it.”