Explain to me why I should use Madison’s new bike-sharing program

I like bikes.  I like cities that support bikes.  But I don’t think I like Madison’s new B-cycle program.  Before the program started, my understanding was that for a small fee, I could check out a bike at a station and drop it off at another station.  Pretty useful if I needed to get quickly from place to place in town and didn’t have my bike with me.  But no — in order to get on a bike at all, I have to purchase a “24 hour pass,” which costs ten bucks.  But a 24-hour-pass doesn’t mean unlimited use of the bike for 24 hours — it just gives you the right to use the bike for half-hour trips.  Any more than that — say, if you want to take the bike to a store, buy something, and return the bike, rather than just going station-to-station — and you’re on the hook for more money: $2 for the second half-hour, $5 for each half-hour after that.  Who’s the market for paying $12 to run an errand by bike?

I can only think of two contexts in which this makes sense.  If I were a tourist, I would certainly pay the $10 and do free rides from place to place in order to get around Madison quickly and without worrying about parking.  As a local, I suppose if I thought I were likely to use the service a lot, I could pay $65 for an annual membership.  But I suspect the per-use cost would end up being very high.

Bike advocates who get good use from these programs — explain to me what they’re for!

Update:  Just to clarify for some commenters below — this program is private, operated by Trek, not (as far as I understand) subsidized by the city.  Trek has B-cycle systems running in about a dozen cities, and in most of them the daily rate is $5 or $6 (though in San Antonio it’s also $10.)  In Chicago there’s no daily pass at all, just a $5 minimum for a short ride.  B-cycle is one of two finalists to run bike-sharing in New York; I wonder what they’re proposing to charge?  In DC, which has a $5 minimum (different company), the service is apparently doing well; its 109 bikes made over 64,000 trips in March 2011.  Of course, DC’s combination of masses of carless tourists and mediocre public transportation is hard to match elsewhere.  But there are also 8,800 annual members, presumably locals; I wonder how many Madison has?

Re-update:  Actually, it looks like these programs do involve some municipal money in most cities.  Trek’s original proposal was that Madison would contribute $100K per year.  Mayor Soglin’s counteroffer was “How about nothing?  Is nothing good for you?”

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12 thoughts on “Explain to me why I should use Madison’s new bike-sharing program

  1. Those prices are quite steep compared to the bike-share programs I encountered this summer in Paris and Melbourne. In both cases, the 24 hour pass is much cheaper, about US$2.50, though again you pay more for trips over 30 minutes, at about the Madison rate. One interesting thing is that I saw absolutely no one in Paris wearing a helmet, but as they’re required by law in Australia, some of the stations there had vending machines that would sell you a helmet for $5!

    I don’t know what Madison’s funding model is, but in Paris the fees only cover part of the cost of the system, with the rest being made up by advertising fees from billboards at the stations themselves. (In fact the Paris system is run by a private company that agreed to provide and maintain the bikes and stations in return for being permitted by the city to post the ads.)

  2. Toby says:

    In London that $10 fee is £1, so it makes a lot more sense. $10 is just crazy, as you say.

  3. Mark Meckes says:

    I read an op-ed piece once which said that public transportation is held back in the U.S. by the common idea that it should be financially self-sufficient, i.e., that it should not be supported by taxes. This leads to it being more expensive (or often, less likely to be set up in the first place) than in other countries where public transportation is more likely to be subsidized by the state. And yet it goes generally unnoticed, when costs are considered, that the ability to get around in your own car is heavily subsidized by taxes which pay for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges.

  4. Tullia says:

    Jordan, I think you’re still missing the point of the bike share model. The idea is that you’re supposed bike to the store, leave the bike at a nearby station, shop as long as you want and then pick up a different bike for your trip home (or better yet take the bus home if you bought too much stuff!)
    It’s true that in Madison the stations are sometimes far apart and not always conveniently located but think of it this way, these bikes are supposed to be part of the public transportation system. Do you refuse to take the bus just because it doesn’t stop right in front of the store? (Or better yet, do you expect the bus to wait for you while you shop?)
    In a city like Paris, whose population density is almost 20 times that of Madison’s, there are bike stations practically on every corner. This definitely makes the system more practical than Madison’s but if you compare other forms of public transportation you’ll find similar problems: the metro/buses in Paris run every couple of minutes as opposed to every 15 in Madison. In the end, those people who own a car rarely take the bus and probably people who own a bike will prefer to use their own bike but it’s worth having a bus pass because sometimes it just makes more sense to take the bus and likewise I think it’s worth having a “bike pass” for when it’s more convenient to take a bike share bike. For me the bike share system has been a blessing. While waiting for my stuff (including my bike) to be delivered, I’ve been commuting every day from Atwood to campus on a bike share bike but I’m also sure that even when my own bike does arrive I’ll still keep using the bike share bikes on a regular basis (e.g. on days when I decide to take the bus in because it’s raining and bike back in the afternoon when it’s sunny or if I know I’m going to be out late and taking a cab home or if I have a friend visiting from out of town or if my bike is in the shop or etc. etc… )

    That said, I do agree that the late fees they charge here are a bit steep compared to other places and the 24 hour fee almost doesn’t make it worth it but $65 for a year is pretty reasonable for a “bike pass”.

  5. Igor says:

    You shouldn’t.

    I don’t know Madison but a target group might be the student body. Also, considering the large amount of expenses by the city when it comes to car parking for businesses (let’s take into that equation the car parking enforcement in the Sheriff’s office), it seems rather interesting for a mayor to say ” how about nothing” besides looking tough on new taxes, but then again that mayor is probably not elected by the student body either as in most college towns. The other part of the equation is that the city is probably limiting itself in terms of revenues. If bikes were an integral part of the philosophy of the town, then city ordinance’s might require less parking space for businesses and would enable a larger concentration of businesses in downtown in the long term (which would probably translate into a tax revenue stream). As I said, I don’t know Madison, WI so these points might be irrelevant.

  6. [...] Bike share and Madisonian politics. [...]

  7. CP says:

    It was going to be much cheaper under the plan originally proposed by Mayor Cieslewicz. However, Mayor Soglin rewrote the offer even though implementation was already committed to move forward. He made it more expensive for Trek. The prices you’re seeing are the end result. Soglin doesn’t understand biking culture, in fact, he seems to resent it.

  8. Ninja says:

    Gimmicky, poorly thought-out nonsense in Madison? No way!

  9. Emily says:

    CP’s got it right, actually. The original proposal, though poorly communicated with the Common Council and public at large, would have actually meant lower prices for people using the program AND a decent amount of profit for the City of Madison (in addition to Trek).

    Largely due to that poor proposal period, though, Soglin and others balked at the whole thing, changed the terms almost completely, and what we’ve ended up with is a slightly overpriced program that Madison makes absolutely nothing off of in the long run.

    I still think it’s a great idea, and see people using it a lot. There are improvements to be made, for sure, but I dig the program in general.

  10. human mathematics says:

    It’s like solar power. A great idea, but too expensive to practically implement. I’ve seen that same price for tourist bikes in major cities.

    An employee of mine wanted to see if we could get something like this going in Bloomington, IN — and just the installation of the bike racks was O($10,000). You can’t even get a price without emailing someone to ask for a quote (there are like 6-8 companies I found on the web).

  11. joe says:

    I live next to a B-cycle station. 95% of the people that I have seen rent or ride them have been tourists. (you can tell because they either look lost, or are clearly out for some sort of stroll that doesn’t include paying attention to the cars behind them on the road)

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