June 8, 2013

Green transit alternative: Cycle of sharing expands

Bike-shares may be expensive, but the results in Boston since 2011 have been encouraging enough for Portland to mull such a program.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - The idea of having a bicycle rental system accessible 24 hours a day, every day, is getting a serious look in Maine's biggest city after Portland won a federal grant to analyze the feasibility of a Bike Share program.

click image to enlarge

Alex Moran of Boston’s Allston area is among the many Bostonians to take advantage of Boston’s two-year-old Bike Share that offers low-cost bicycle rentals 24/7 from outdoor docks all around the city. Portland has obtained federal money to explore the feasibility of such a program.

Photos by Deirdre Fleming/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Eileen Morrison of Boston learns the nearest Boston Bike Share hub to her home from Nicole Freedman, Boston Bike’s director, during rush hour.

But in Boston, one of the nation's first cities to lead the way in the bike-share movement, commuters, fitness fans and happy two-wheel travelers alike say it is a no-brainer.

"It's amazing to tour around the city. You get a different sense of things. I got a year membership (for $85) for working out. You figure that's less than the cost of owning a bike and paying for upkeep," said Wael Moathen, 27, of Brookline, Mass., who was out for a ride Tuesday before docking his bike-share bike at Government Center.

Bike-share programs offer low-cost bicycle rentals 24 hours a day from outdoor bike hubs, or docks, to help provide green transportation alternatives, to reduce oil consumption and to encourage healthy living. It's an expensive system with significant costs to install the new-age infrastructure and run it.

But the result in Boston since July 25, 2011, has been a lot more bike love.

Last week during commuter hour, happy cyclists picked up the heavy, sturdy, simple Hubway bikes to tour through sunny streets on their way home. At one of roughly 100 hubs anchored to the terrace at Government Center, commuters came and went while live music played in the distance.

On this blue-sky, breezy, summer-like day, none of the bike-share riders wanted to get in their cars. And thanks to a $6 a day ticket -- or $20 for a monthly membership or $85 for an annual membership -- none of them needed to do so.

"I love it. l took hundreds of trips last year. I commute home from work, but I also just like riding them," said Alex Moran, who moved to Boston's Allston neighborhood a year ago from New Hampshire.

Those who buy a ticket or membership in Boston can take unlimited daily rides of less than 30 minutes. There are additional fees to keep bikes for a longer time period, ranging from $2 for one hour to $100 for a full day. Those higher fees are designed to encourage riders to return bikes as soon as possible so they're available for another rider.

Currently, there are more than 300 bike-share programs around the world, with the largest in Paris, which launched in 2007. There are programs in Spain, Germany, Australia, Canada and China, which has the largest in the world with more than 2,000 bike docks.

More are being launched in the U.S.

On May 27, New York City rolled out the most recent two-wheeled green transit system. With Citi Bank as the lead sponsor, the Big Apple now has 6,000 bikes getting checked in and out of 330 docks across Manhattan in what is expected to be just the first phase of Citi Bike.

Boston was the fourth area in the U.S. to launch a bike-share program after Denver, Minnesota's Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C.

"We'll have 130 stations (or docks) at the end of this year. That's a 10th the size of New York's. But for the size of our population, it's pretty good," Boston Bike director Nicole Freedman said of her city, which has a population of 617,500.

Boston is also launching helmet dispensers, compliments of a new company called HelmetHub, started by two graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It will be the first city in the United States to offer that program.

Meanwhile, Portland was one of five communities this year to receive assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to look into installing a bike-share program.

After Portland receives its EPA assessment this month, it will start into phase two, which involves more analysis of the cost in bringing a bike-share program to the city. A final answer on whether Maine will share in the bike-share craze is expected by early 2014.

If it's a go, a fundraising effort would likely follow, said Jeff Levine, Portland's planning and urban development director, who helped institute the bike-share program in Boston.

But a bike-share program is like a state park; it requires not only the infrastructure, but the staff and funding to run it.

"The main thing that might get in the way is money. Federal subsidies are much less available today. We have to figure out the financing," Levine said.

Right now, Levine said the chances of Maine getting one is "50-50."

It cost Boston roughly $3 million to launch its Hubway system, and it costs as much as $20,000 per month for each station for upkeep and bike maintenance, Freedman said.

A former Olympic cyclist, Freedman said the cost has been worth it.

"It creates a substantial green transit system for Bostonites. All social backgrounds and ethnicities use it; and there is a subculture of tourists who take one-day trips. It's awesome. It's fun. I think Maine would do well with it," Freedman said.

TO LEARN MORE about Boston's Bike Share, go to www.thehubway.com

Those interested in helping to launch or finance a Portland bike-share program can call Jeff Levine at 874-8720.

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:



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