Houston is an oil town, and Houstonians love their cars. But residents are inching toward creating a greener Houston. Enter B-cycle, the newbie in public transportation.
B-cycles are appearing all over downtown and Midtown. You may have seen them, parked at racks with self-serve kiosks, where riders are able to enter their payment information, detach the bike and go.
B-cycle is a program of Houston Bike Share, a nonprofit organization funded by federal grants. The program started in May 2012 with 18 bikes planted at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston City Hall and Market Square. Success was immediate. Today 173 bikes are available at 21 stations in downtown, Midtown and Montrose, with more planned.
Will Rub, the director of Houston Bike Share, is passionate about the program.
“Our prices are so much better than most other cities’. Denver carries an $80 annual cost and a weekly rate of $20; New York’s annual rate is $95 while the weekly is $25. You can rent a Houston B-cycle bike for as little as $5 for 24 hours; $15 for seven days and $65 for a year,” Rub said.
But there’s a catch: “You can only use the bike for one hour at a time.”
That means someone who wants to ride a B-cycle to work must pick up a bike in the morning and park it when he arrives at his destination. He must use another bike to ride home in the afternoon.
Because the bikes are linked to computers, Rub can track who takes a bike at any given time and where he drops it off. He said several residents of the Sabine Lofts near the Sabine Street Bridge will pick up bikes about 7:30 a.m., ride for four to six minutes, then leave them at buildings downtown. The stations are open 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, though bikes can be returned at any time.
The bikes are not meant to be taken home, and it costs $2 for every additional half-hour a bike is checked out past an hour. But sometimes people are confused about the system.
“I called this one guy who was staying at a hotel downtown,” Rub remembers. “I asked him if he still had the bike, and he said, ‘Yeah, it’s here in my hotel room.’ I reminded him of the policy. Some people just don’t read down that far.”
Laura Ying, an intern at the Fogarty Klein Monroe advertising agency, recently grabbed some friends and hopped on the B-cycles right after work. They found a rack full of bikes, purchased 24-hour passes and rode away. Ying discovered that seeing Houston from a bike is different from being in a car.
“We realized that there was so much more to see and that we are such a commuter city. We are always in our cars, so to do something different on a bike, it kind of slowed everything down,” Ying said.
The bikes come with cable locks and instructions in the basket. If a rider gets stuck, he can call a number on the bike for help, which usually arrives in 10 to 15 minutes.
John Vondra is that go-to guy out in the field, rescuing users, doing minor repairs, retrieving abandoned bikes and using bolt cutters to free bikes from broken locks. He stays connected with B-cycle headquarters with a laptop and a cellphone as he drives around.
Some bikes require more work. Users have taken B-cycle bikes to Memorial Park’s off-road trails, even though they’re not built for that kind of riding. Others have piled additional passengers into the handlebar baskets – with a 20-pound load limit – after a few hours at a downtown pub. That kind of damage requires a trip to the shop.
Vondra also tracks use patterns, which enables the program to place bikes where they’re needed.
Vondra has had his share of adventures in the course of his job.
“I was at the Randall’s in Midtown, using my bolt cutters, to cut a bike free, and a lady was using her cellphone to take pictures of me. I guess she thought I was stealing the bike. A few minutes later, the security guard approached me and told me I could not take the bike.”
Vondra explained who he was, and everything turned out OK.
“I like being a part of the initial stages of the program. I feel like I am helping the city grow and change in a really good way,” he said.
Houston B-cycle – Set up an account, find stations and learn more at www.houston.bcycle.com,