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Tale Of Two Cities: Bike Share Programs Vary From Place To Place

A station like this one for Columbike can be costly, but serves as a hub for bike share activity. (Brock Turner- WFIU/WTIU News)

A number of Indiana cities offer bike share programs, letting residents and visitors rent a bike for a short period of time.

The programs offer an alternative to driving while promoting a healthy lifestyle. The concept is something a lot people get excited about, but finding a way to fund it can be a challenge.  

Dick Boyce is frequent user of the Columbus bike share program. He helped start the city’s program in 2016 and serves as the executive director.

Someone interested in renting a bike can reserve it on their smartphone or pick it up right from a station.

It’s easy to use, but it’s still struggling to catch on. The city has adjusted its pricing model; instead of paying $8 to have a bike for a 24-hour period, renters now can pay per hour.

Boyce says more people are using the bikes, but they’re spending less time on them so now the program is bringing in even less money.  

Bike shares across the country are facing similar struggles.

Beth Rosenbarger, the Bicycle and Pedestrain Coordinator for the City of Bloomington, says upfront costs of a bike share are significant. She estimates a single station can cost as much as $500,000. 

Boyce agrees. Cummins helped support the bike share in Columbus.  

"To date, I know of no bike share program in the United States that actually makes any money," he says.

However, a newly formed bike share in Bloomington might have struck the right balance. The city’s program uses a dockless system, meaning that users don’t have to return their bikes to a station.

They can park the bike anywhere there’s a public bike rack. The city says the bikes have been checked out more than 4,000 times so far this month.

"Dockless bike share programs have really changed the bike share system," Rosenbarger says. "Previously, with all station based systems where you go to a station, punch in the things, check out a bike, take it around, and take it back into a station."

Bloomington’s costs have been minimal. The company, Zagster, pays for the bikes and the maintenance. They also keep the profits.

The city hopes to expand the program. College towns across the country--not just Bloomington--have proven to be good matches for bike share programs.

"We’re confident it will continue to increase," Rosenbarger says. "The more people get used to the program the more they’ll start riding the bikes to get places."

Despite not having a large college student population or a dockless system, Boyce remains confident. 

"We’re finding more and more [people]," he says. "The easier we make getting on the bike and going from point A to point B, the more those individuals are going to ride." 

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