CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte now has a bike sharing program, becoming the largest city in the southeast to offer the service, officials said at a ribbon cutting ceremony in uptown Thursday.
200 bikes will be available at 20 different stations around town and those bikes and stations will be operational by the end of the month.
The program is called Charlotte B Cycle and is meant to make it easier to get around town as well as promote exercise and healthy living.
Blue Cross Blue Shield is spending $4 million on the bike sharing program, which is also being implemented in Raleigh and Wilmington.
Several bike sharing stations were set up this week around uptown, including at the 7th Street LYNX station, and on Trade Street in front of the Omni Hotel near The Square. Workers were testing the system Tuesday afternoon.
Bike sharing is a system in which people can pay a fee at a self-service kiosk to rent a bike for short trips.
“This right here is cool,” said Larry Davis, who was eyeing the new kiosk at 7th street station. “You’ve got easy access to the train, the bars and ImaginOn.”
B-Cycle, which runs bike share programs in a dozen cities including Spartanburg, Houston and Kansas City, will run the program. The website for Charlotte’s bike share, charlottebcycle.com, was not online Tuesday, but a search revealed Charlotte Center City Partners as the site’s owner. (The organization had no comment.)
Once operational, the bikes can be checked out by swiping a credit card. According to the kiosk, users buy a membership first: A daily one for $8, or an annual membership for $65. Each allows you to use the bike in half-hour increments for free. If a rider needs the bike for longer than that, B-Cycle then charges $4 for each additional half-hour.
For example, if you just bought a daily membership and used the bike for two hours, you’d be charged $8 for the membership, and then $12 dollars for the extra time. The total cost: $20.
If you returned the bike in less than 30 minutes, you’d only pay for the $8. Riders can return the bike to any B-Cycle station. At this point, it’s unclear how many bicycles or stations there would be in Charlotte, although each of the two stations we saw Tuesday had docks for more than a dozen bikes. Bikes can be checked out between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. but can be checked back in at any time.
The bicycle being tested Tuesday included a basket and a bicycle lock. On its website, B-Cycle encourages helmets but does not provide them, saying it couldn’t keep them clean. The company, a partnership between Trek Bicycle, Humana and Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, did not return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.
Bike sharing programs are already extremely popular worldwide, and starting to pick up some momentum in the United States. Hangzhou, China has the largest system, with 61,000 bicycles spread out among 2,400 bike stations. Paris has more than 20,000 bicycles available for sharing.
The programs aren’t necessarily profitable. An April U.S. News and World Report story on Capital Bikeshare pointed out that the company has lost money since its launch in September 2010, and that one of the biggest costs involves the trucking of bikes from full stations to empty ones. Chicago and Washington, DC launched their programs with the help of federal grants. New York and Los Angeles are trying to do so without taxpayer money.
It’s unclear who’s paying for Charlotte’s system, although three-fourths of Center City Partners’ funding comes from a special property tax levied on the uptown and South End areas. It’s also not clear when the bike share system will be up and running.
Denver launched a test bike sharing program ahead of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and St. Paul tried the same thing during the 2008 Republican convention. Charlotte will host the 2012 DNC in September.
Charlotte has made an effort to be more bike-friendly over the last few years. The city currently has 65 miles of bike lanes. In 2003, it only had one mile’s worth.