San Antonio B-Cycle, by most measures, should be a national model: first bikeshare program in Texas, one of the first in the nation, and after four years its network of 55 stations and 450 bikes is set to expand to 76 stations and 650 bikes with a $1.2 million Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) grant. Nearly every neighborhood surrounding downtown will have stations by the end of 2015.
Unlike rideshare, where Uber and Lyft have suspended service to protest city regulations, bikeshare has become an integral part of the urban landscape since its launch in 2011. The understated grey bikes have been checked out 275,000 times. Riders have pedaled 818,000 miles, burning 36 million calories on the path to making San Antonio a healthier city. More than 3,000 locals have purchased $80 annual memberships, and thousands more have purchased $24 seven-day passes or $10, 24-hour passes. Tens of thousands of visitors have used the bikes during their stays. Nearly one-third of all B-Cycle trips are taken up and down the Mission Reach and to and from the Missions. Bikeshare has reduced the city’s carbon footprint.
Yet San Antonio B-Cycle could be on the verge of following rideshare and disappearing from the San Antonio landscape, multiple sources have told the Rivard Report, unless it can win the local government, corporate and philanthropic financial support that bikeshare enjoys in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, and Austin. The same sources said Cindi Snell, the unpaid executive director since B-Cycle’s started here, announced at a Tuesday B-Cycle board meeting that she has decided to step down later this year. Snell has recently told friends and colleagues in the cycling community that she is exhausted after four years of unsuccessful efforts to win any major sponsorships and operating on a bare bones budget and pro bono support services to survive.
Something is sorely wrong in America when you cannot get people in cities to ride something as inexpensive and ride-friendly as BikeShare. The current approach seems not to be working. Sure you can go out and find another
sucker suitor to take over the reins of the business, but should it not be possible for cities which already have mass transit experience to get this sort of operation underway and fully sustainable?
If not, what does this say about the ‘readiness of America‘ for embracing bicycling as a ‘way of life‘? Hollywood has done its part. You cannot go a single night without seeing bikes prominently featured in commercials and television series. The cities have done what they could to get the bikes into the hands of the most affluent folks, first and are now working their way towards the other end of the spectrum.
But the one group that seems more than reluctant to embrace these steeds are the ‘bicycle activists‘ themselves. Let me understand this rightly, you want everyone else to ride them but you have a bike that you prefer to these?
What about all the bike parking space you save? How about being able to ride nearly to the front door of your office before docking the bike and not having to find a place to store it in winter?
It is the case that the most bike-friendly segment of the population is loathe to be friendly to these cute little bikes? Why? What have they done to you?
If anything these bikes are the ‘canary in the mine‘ telling us whether or not the American Public is ready for bicycling. If that is the case, there is a great deal more to do in winning the hearts and minds of Joe and Josephine Public.