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?”