Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect correct statistics from the National American Bikeshare Association.
Champions of Fort Worth B-Cycle, the bike share program known for the red bikes dotted around some of the city’s popular neighborhoods, are looking for solutions to boost declining ridership.
Bikers have taken thousands of trips each year since the Fort Wort B-Cycle kicked off in 2013, but the numbers aren’t as high as they should be, Fort Worth B-Cycle director Kristen Camareno said, and worse yet, they’re declining.
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To increase interest in the bikes, 50 electric bicycles will be introduced in April. But in order for the program to expand, Camareno said, the bikes need a subsidy.
“We’re a public transportation service that doesn’t rely on public dollars,” she said.
Fort Worth B-Cycle operates as a nonprofit separate from the city or Trinity Metro. For years the program’s budget, about $546,000 annually, has operated on user fees and sponsorships. The bikes cost $8 for 24-hour access and $4 for every hour after that. Annual memberships cost $80 or $65 for students.
Cyclists rode them for 230,241 miles last year, but it’s not entirely clear who those riders are, Camareno said.
To help find out, a B-Cycle launched a survey earlier this month that will continue through February or until 500 responses are received. Regardless of whether the trip is to connect to a bus station, for running errands or simply recreation, Camereno said Fort Worth B-Cycle wants a clear picture of who they serve.
On a recent warm afternoon, B-Cycle docks near City Hall and the Fort Worth Convention Center were almost full, while the dock by the library’s downtown branch was nearly empty. At least one rider was seen commuting along West Seventh in rush-hour traffic.
Part of the dramatic drop in ridership can be blamed on a change in ride times.
In January 2018, the initially ride time jumped from 30 minutes to one hour. Many riders bike for about an hour, so under the previous rate system, their rides would count as two trips, Camareno said.
Weather, particularly rain, has also impacted ridership, she said.
But the key driver is the need to expand the system, she said.
Stations are currently clustered around downtown, Near Southside, the West Seventh district and TCU, with a handful of docks along the Trinity Trails and on the north side near the Fort Worth Stockyards.
Ideally that expansion would include more than 100 stations concentrated in areas of high-density homes and businesses and in low-income neighborhoods, Camareno said. She would also like to see a seamless transition between bikes and Trinity Metro services where fare and payment methods are shared, ideally on an app, to make it easier for commuters to pay and go.
To make all that happen the program needs more money, she said.
“I’m not talking about toeing the line or just getting by,” she said. “I’m talking about creating a real robust system.”
Camareno said she has met with senior staff at both the city and Trinity Metro about developing a plan for subsidies. Details about how subsidies would work, including a dollar amount, haven’t been hashed out, she said. The program wants to establish a plan with at least five years of growth.
Representatives for the city and the metro said they had no additional information on subsidies for bike share.
Bike shares routinely receive subsidies, though they vary from city to city, said Samantha Herr, executive director of the North American Bikeshare Association.
Nationally, bike share ridership has continued to grow, she said. It increased 25 percent from 2015 to 2016 and 19 percent from 2016 to 2017.
The increase of dockless bikes, which unlike Fort Worth’s can be parked anywhere, as well as scooters like Bird and Lime, may attribute to a decline in bike share usage in some cities, Herr said.
But Fort Worth has avoided dockless bikes and scooters, while Dallas embraced them and has seen thousands pile up on sidewalks.
One way B-Cycle hopes to expand this year is through electric bikes.
The white bikes will come to docks in April and feature a small electric motor that assists riders up to 17 mph. Camareno hopes the bikes encourage people who may be worried about biking in the heat to ride in the summer.
“It’s not a moped, it’s not a scooter. If you’re not pedaling, it’s not going anywhere,” she said.
Like the red traditional bikes, the electric bikes are made by Trek.
Fort Worth B-Cycle also hopes to reach more people who rely on the bikes to link to a bus transfer or for the full length of their commute.
In March, First Mile, a reduced rate program for riders receiving food stamps, will reduce the cost of an annual membership to $10.