Dianna Webb demonstrates how to rent from Bcycle in Charlotte.
Dianna Webb demonstrates how to rent a bicycle last week at the Charlotte Bcycle station on South Tryon Street in Charlotte. Jodie Castellani / Carolina Public Press.

Bicycles for people who don’t have their own are coming to North Carolina cities and have already arrived in some locations.

Across the state, cities have launched bike-sharing programs — schemes in which customers can use a bike when needed by checking it out and paying per ride. Additional cities are considering implementing programs of their own.

Charlotte, Durham and Winston-Salem have launched bike-share programs with partner companies, which provide the actual bikes.

UNC Chapel Hill also has a bike-share program operated by the university.

Raleigh’s bike-share program got a name late last month, when Citrix, a tech company with hundreds of employees in that city’s downtown, announced it would sponsor the bike-sharing program there. Reports indicate the Raleigh program will begin in July.

“It’s always great to work from the Citrix office here, but today it was particularly exciting to share our news: The new bike-sharing system in downtown Raleigh will officially be Citrix Cycle,” Citrix CEO David Henshall said in a May 23 tweet.

Asheville is also considering a bike-share program. City staff recently launched a feasibility study to see whether a program could work there. City transportation planner Barb Mee said she expects the study to be finished by the end of the year.

“We support access to transportation and affordable transport options,” Mee said.

“It seems like a good fit, but we also know there are many ways to approach it, and some of those ways can be very expensive. If we are to be wise and spend taxpayer money carefully, we have to see if it’s a good fit, how would it work and what kind of operational model is most feasible.”

Mee said the city hosted a program last week to discuss the initiative. Asheville is also soliciting feedback from the public through an online survey. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the city paid $50,000 to Massachusetts-based Alta Planning and Design and local firm Friction Shift Projects to perform the study.

More than one way to share

Two primary bike-share models exist. The first is a free-standing model, in which customers pick up and leave their bikes around town, unlocking them with an app.

The second system is a dock model, in which customers pick up and leave the bike at large docking stations, usually located near public transportation.

According to the Seattle Times, more than 1,000 cities around the world have bike-sharing programs.

Goals of these systems are multiple. They are meant to cut down on congestion, allowing people to make short trips without having to use their car. This also has an environmental benefit, because fewer car trips means fewer emissions.

This also cuts down on congestion, especially in urban areas. There is also a health benefit, as cycling provides exercise that riding in a car or public transportation does not.

The programs have some drawbacks. They can be expensive to implement. Typically, a private company partners with a city to set up bike infrastructure.

Last year, the Charlotte City Council approved nearly $1.7 million in federal transportation grants for bike-share programs. Right now, four companies are operating under the city’s pilot program: ofo, LimeBike, Mobike and Spin. BCycle is also operating in Charlotte.

“In Charlotte, as with most of our cities, we work in partnership with the city,” said Laura Andrews, communications manager for BCycle.

Stray bikes have caused some problems. In Durham this spring, on a particularly windy day, free-standing bikes available to share were found piled up throughout downtown. According to news reports, more than 1,500 dockless bikes are available in Durham.

Jordan Levine, communications manager for ofo, which operates in both Charlotte and Durham, said bike providers work to mitigate these problems before they become a public nuisance.

“We have a local operations team on the ground and software that tracks the bike,” Levine said.

“We can tell the location of a bike at any time. Our operations managers on the back end are getting all of this information locally. We can rebalance our bikes to make sure they’re in the proper areas. If they’re in the right of way, we can move them.”

BCycle bikes in Charlotte
Rental bicycles at BCycle in Uptown Charlotte. Jodie Castellani / Carolina Public Press

Bike trips add up

According to the Charlotte Observer, 23,112 total trips were made in February, a 22 percent jump from the previous month. The Durham Herald-Sun reports more than 10,000 trips were made that same month in Durham, where LimeBike, Ofo and Spin are operating.

According to the National Association of Transportation Officials, riders have made 88 million trips on bike-share bicycles in the U.S. since 2010.

Prices for bike share vary. Most companies require customers to become a member for a month or a year, or they allow people to buy a 24-hour pass. In Charlotte, an annual membership to BCycle is $100, and a monthly one is $9.99. A 24-hour pass costs $8. Trips under two hours are free; after that, each hour costs $4, with a maximum charge of $75 per day. The city of Durham’s website says trips on its bike-share program usually cost $1 for 30 minutes.

So far, bike-sharing programs have been limited to large North Carolina cites and university towns. If slightly smaller Asheville approves the program, it could represent the spread of bike sharing to the next population tier of cities. Mee said Asheville is exploring all of its options.

“There are a few models to choose from,” she said. “If we were to go forward, how would that best look for the city? Is it some kind of mixture of standing and dock?”

“Right now I’m not worried (about potential drawbacks of the bikes) because we’re doing the feasibility study,” she added. “I’m sure I’ll have lots of things to worry about once the study is done.”

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David Francis is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press. Contact him at dcfranci@gmail.com.

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