Two steps forward and one step back.
Baltimore’s bike share system, which went through years of fits and starts before finally launching last year, will be temporarily shut down Sunday to address recurring theft, vandalism and maintenance problems this summer.
Local bicyclists began noticing—and documenting on social media—empty stations and a shortage of available bikes across the city over the past few weeks. Officially, the bike share program will be offline beginning Sunday. It is scheduled to return Oct. 15, according to the City Department of Transportation.
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“I think it’s a necessary move,” said Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, the city’s nonprofit bicycling advocacy organization. “Ultimately, as an outside observer who is part of the technical advisory committee on bike share, a pause in operation is probably the best way for the manufacturer, Bewegen, to address the issue of stolen bikes and the locking system.”
In a press release, the DOT added that along with the return of the existing bike share bikes and stations next month, the Phase II portion of the planned bike share expansion—to 500 bikes and 50 stations—will begin to be implemented as well.
Baltimore’s bike share program, which started last year with a modest 200 bicycles at 20 stations, had originally been planned to double in size by this spring. But while hitting initial benchmarks in terms of ridership, the city’s bike share network has been plagued for sometime by theft, vandalism and maintenance, which eventually took a toll on reliability for users. All the vast majority of stolen bikes were eventually recovered, they were inevitably in need of repair after being wrenched from a docking station, Cornish said.
Paul DeMaio, a bike share consultant based in Washington, D.C., said that Capital Bikesharewent through some similar theft and vandalism issues in its first year, but shutting down that system wasn’t required to replace and upgrade necessary locking components. “Bikes were being stolen from the docking stations,” DeMaio said. “But the operator figured out how to replace and reconfigure the locking components, and I imagine that will be the case here [in Baltimore]. Bewegen is a new company still going through some growing pains. However, their president, Alain Ayotte, is the former CEO of the vendor of the Capital Bikeshare system.”
Currently the Baltimore bike share program has nearly 1,800 active users. Overall, nearly 10,000 individuals have used bike share bikes on roughly 40,000 trips since last fall, totaling almost 60,000 miles.
During the shutdown, upgraded security features will be added in response to thefts, according to the DOT, including always-on GPS to improve safety and security of the bike share system.
The locking system at bike share stations were not strong enough to prevent by bikes from being wedged free from thieves at an unexpected rate, Ayotte told The Baltimore Sun.
“We don’t have this issue anywhere else, not at this level,” Ayotte told The Sun. “Our locking system is recognized [as] very, very up to industry standard, but due to the issues that occurred in Baltimore this summer, we did add additional security.”
According to Bikemore, which has been an advocate of the bike share program as well as supporting increased bicycle infrastructure across the city, the following upgrades will be done on city bike share program during its hiatus:
- All stations will be retrofitted with new locks to prevent theft.
- Address bike maintenance backlog related to theft and vandalism
- Station cleaning
- Map and Kiosk sticker upgrades (new stations means new maps)
- Pedalec technology enhancements including the ability to set your own speed or create system wide governors, like reducing max speed in high pedestrian areas like the inner harbor or in wet weather
- Refurbish bikes (some will be shipped back to headquarters in Canada where they will receive full spa treatment and return shiny and new looking)