Bike share program gets thumbs up from council committee
If full council approves proposal, rental bikes could hit streets this year
04/13/2012 3:25 PM
Updated April 18, 4 p.m.
The city’s new bike sharing program looks to be heading for a late summer rollout, but the road in between could be prove to be a bit bumpy.
Sponsored by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and touted by transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, the multi-million dollar program, which was set to go before the city council on Wednesday, is expected to see thousands of rental bikes available throughout the city beginning later this year.
Under the terms of the system, riders who subscribe to daily or yearly memberships will be able to pick up bikes at automated stations — located primarily in the downtown area at the onset of the program — and leave them at racks near their destinations.
“This flexibility opens up biking to everyone,” said Pat Harney, first deputy commissioner of the city’s department of transportation, before council’s pedestrian and traffic safety committee on Friday.
Under the terms of the proposal, for an annual $75 fee or a $7 daily charge, users will be able to borrow bikes in half-hour intervals to ride to and from rack stations, which will feature solar-powered payment kiosks.
Any rides over half an hour for either payment plan will result in additional fees.
“We have [those fees] because we want the bikes to be turning over constantly,” said CDOT Managing Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly.
Kubly said that, at the onset, the program’s ideal customers would be those commuting to and from work and those making short trips within the Loop.
He added that the program was not necessarily targeting tourists in the city, who are more apt to use one of the many existing rental and tour services that charge around $40 for a full day.
“We don’t really want to compete with those companies,” he said.
Last month, the city selected Alta Bicycle Share Inc. to oversee and operate the program. Alta, an Oregon-based company, has already developed bike sharing systems in cities like Washington and Boston.
The city caught heat when the head of a bidding company for the contract pointed out that Klein had once worked as a consultant for Alta. Klein has since stated that he removed himself for the city’s bidding process for Chicago’s program.
Another fact that escaped discussion during the hearing was that the city already has a much smaller, relatively unknown bike sharing program, called Chicago B-Cycle.
Launched in 2010 by a Wisconsin-based company, the service costs $35 a month for unlimited rides or $5 an hour for one-time usage, with rack stations located exclusively in the Loop and lakefront area.
The city’s new program is slated to cost around $19.5 million, almost all of which is expected to be covered through federal funding grant that the city received late last year. Each bike is expected to cost around $1,100 to purchase.
The city will front $1.5 million in capital funding to jump start the program, and that money is expected to be returned in the form of revenues generated by user fees, said Kubly, who cited the success of similar programs in cities like Washington.
“We anticipate that this program will actually be generating positive revenue for the city,” he said.
The major snag in the plan, which passed through the committee, seems to be the forthcoming placement and implementation of the bike stations.
CDOT hasn’t yet designated the locations for the racks — Kubly said that that the city will be engaging the public to determine station locations for the program in the coming months. By 2013, the network of stations could stretch as far north as Devon Avenue, as far west as California Avenue and as far south 63rd Street, he said.
But with a 30-minute deadline, riders in most neighborhoods might be hard pressed to make it anywhere within having to dish out extra fees.
“That leaves a huge swath of the city without the ability to use this,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). “Why should people who live in outlying wards support a system that they feasibly can’t use?”