(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Baltimore’s new bikeshare is debuting Friday, marking a milestone for the city after two previous attempts to launch a program didn’t get in gear.
For the fall, the bikes are initially rolling out at 20 stations, where 200 bicycles will be available for short-term rental. Another 30 stations with 300 bicycles are set to appear in the spring, Baltimore Bike Share Coordinator Jay Decker said earlier this month.
A good portion of the bikes — 200, to be exact — will do some of the work for riders. Made by Canadian company Bewegen, the bikes have pedal-assist technology that make it easier to get uphill.
“You’ll be able to ride a bike north on Charles Street at 12 mph,” said Liz Cornish, executive director of bicycle advocacy group Bikemore. The group had two advocates on the city team that selected the bikeshare vendor, as well as the Technical Advisory Committee for the program.
The pedal power kicks in automatically, and the bikes have an odometer so you can keep track of how fast you’re going. The “pedelec” technology is still new, and has leaders thinking in hemispheric terms.
“It will be the largest fleet of pedal-assist bikes in the western hemisphere,” Cornish said.
Burning the midnight oil as we prepare for the Big Bike Launch ??. We are so excited!!!!!? pic.twitter.com/rHL0KvXCRo
— Baltimore City DOT (@BmoreCityDOT) October 28, 2016
The bikes themselves aren’t the only part of the program utilizing tech. An app is also rolling out, and the city plans to post ridership data in an API on the bikeshare website.
But it takes people, too. The bikeshare is set to be staffed by Corps Logistics, which moved its headquarters to Baltimore. They will employ about 80 full-timers, many of whom are veterans who went through a residential treatment program at Baltimore Station. They’ll be tasked with making sure the bicycles are appropriately distributed, kiosks and customer service.
The program operates on a membership basis, with founding members still able to join for $100 and get a Zipcar membership along with it. There’s also a monthly pass for $15 or a pass that charges $2 for a 45-minute ride. Cash payment is available at some stations. Riders get a pass that can be used to check out the bike, and they must be returned to another bikeshare station.
While the launch is a positive step, city leaders would like to add more pieces to make it sustainable. They are still looking for a title sponsor (like Citibank in New York and Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, for example), and are open to businesses sponsoring individual stations. Along with downtown, Mt. Vernon and various spots in South Baltimore, the initial 50 stations span to areas like Carroll Park, Druid Hill Park and Hollins Market. But covering the full city would require growth. That will take buy-in from people who want to see such transportation improvements in the city.
“We grow it by proving it’s successful in Phase 1,” Cornish said. “We use it and we engage in opportunities for public input and feedback to make it better.”
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