Bike Rental Stations Coming to Downtown
By Bettina Meier
Downtown Austin will soon be dotted with bike rental kiosks, maybe as soon as next spring. Similar rental programs in cities around the world have been popular with locals and tourists. Funding is in place: $1.5 million in federal money and another half-million raised privately.
Preston Tyree rides the Austin Metrorail every day from his Cedar Park home to his downtown Austin office. With him he carries a folding bicycle in a surprisingly portable case. He gets out at Fourth and Neches, assembles his bike, and rides to work.
Nearby, Tyree sees a spot where he thinks the city should put a kiosk full of rental bikes.
“With the train station here and a bikeway there it really makes a lot of sense to put in a bike share station here,” Tyree said. “And a fairly big one, because you’ve got Convention Center people walking out and they want to go to dinner somewhere. Where do they want to go? You know, Eighth and Congress. It’s four or five blocks. But they could just drop on a bike and just ride up there. This gets cars out of downtown.”
Tyree is not just any bicycle commuter. He’s the education director at the Austin Cycling Association, the city’s biggest bicycle advocacy group. Tyree is working with the city’s Public Works Department to scout locations for the planned bike sharing program. He says the program will bring lots of new cyclists onto the city’s streets.
“One of the changes will be, you will have a lot of novice cyclists on big clunky bikes riding around downtown not knowing what they are doing,” he said. “The people who are driving cars, they are going to have to get used to that. We are going to have to reach out to the non-cyclist community and say, beware! There are going to be people out there that do dumb things, you can’t run over them.”
With funding in place, the city now is figuring out how the program will work, and which company to contract with for the equipment and rental stations.
The plan is to spread 400 bikes around town at 40 kiosks. The swipe of a credit card will release a bike that can be returned later at any of the 40 stations. The whole fleet will be GPS-tagged to discourage theft.
As people rent bikes and go where they want, the system will get smarter, says Annick Beaudet, who’s managing the program for the Public Works Department.
“There is no way to predict the patterns that your city will have with parts of town that will need bikes at the same time,” Beaudet said. “So what happens is you get a lot of bikes that get left in one area of town, and there then there is a lot of need in another area of town, and so you have to get the rebalancing right. If you don’t get it right you have a lot of people frustrated that don’t want to be on the system.”
The first 30 minutes of each rental will be free. There will be pricing options like day passes for tourists, and memberships for frequent riders.