The Charm City Bikeshare project took a hit last month when Bixi, the Canadian company contracted to supply the bicycles and equipment, filed for bankruptcy. Fear not, city officials said at the time, funding for the project remained in place and a new supplier would be found.
At Bike Maryland's annual state symposium in Annapolis on Tuesday, Barry Robinson, Baltimore City's transit and marine services chief, said Social Bikes, a New York-based company, has now been selected to replace Bixi. Although a contract hasn't been signed yet, Robinson noted that Alta, the Portland-based company that will operate Charm City Bikeshare, has partnered with Social Bikes in other cities and that he expects the deal to be finalized soon.
"It's a little like changing horses in mid-stream, if that metaphor makes sense," Robinson said, noting the sudden switch in bicycle suppliers with a scheduled summer launch date for Charm City Bikeshare. "But it might also be a blessing in disguise. This is a much less expensive platform and allows for a flexibility that we didn't really have before.
"The Bixi deal was much more expensive," Robinson said, adding the savings will help defray initial start-up and operating costs. "This will be about a one-third of the cost."
In terms of cost and flexibility, Robinson noted that the Social Bike "stations" look more like traditional bike racks than the heavy duty docking stations that Bixi manufactured, such as the ones used in the Washington D.C. metro area Capital Bikeshare program. And, bicyclists will be able to lock rented Social Bike bicycles for short periods of time to other generic racks, railings, parking meters, and sign posts, for example, while renting and using the bikes. Ultimately, Social Bikes will have to be returned to one of the 25 planned official Social Bike stations around the downtown commercial area.
Generally, once a bike-share membership is purchased, the first 30 minutes of usage is free, with costs going up each subsequent half-hour. Bike-sharing systems, designed for short urban trips, are now in 650 cities worldwide, according to Bikeshare.com.
Phase I of the Charm City Bikeshare project calls for 250 bikes at the 25 stations, and remains scheduled to launch July 1, Robinson said, to coincide with the new fiscal year. Phase II, which would double the size of Charm City Bikeshare, doesn't have a firm timetable, Robinson said, adding that the city needs to find a lead sponsor, or several sponsors, to support the project before it can move forward with Phase II.
Anne Root, Montgomery County's bikeshare program manager, said the recent expansion of Capital Bikeshare there continues to grow in membership. Overall, she said, Capital Bikeshare now has 308 docking station, 2,600 bikes, 24,000 members—and 6.1 million trips under its belt since launching four years ago. Capital Bikeshare is also expanding to College Park and Prince Georges County.
Ideally, said Chris Merriam, executive director of Bikemore, Baltimore City's nonprofit bicycling advocacy organization, Charm City Bikeshare members will be able to use Capital Bikeshare bikes—and vice versa—making travel, whether for work or visit, that much easier between the two metro areas, particularly now that MARC train service is available between Baltimore and D.C. seven days a week.