E-bikes, pandemic boost MetroBike ridership
MetroBike, the city’s rebranded bike share service, saw two consecutive months of record ridership this year, driven by a pandemic-era bike boom and a new fleet of e-bikes.
“This year, we hit record numbers for the past few years,” Chad Ballentine with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority said, “so the future of bike share is really a positive future.”
March and April ridership reached 16,837 and 17,011 trips, respectively, following a trend of steady growth since the beginning of the pandemic. The pandemic has led to a huge increase in biking in cities around the world, and “Austin is no exception,” Ballentine said.
MetroBike ridership has increased during the pandemic. Chart courtesy of Capital Metro.
Bike-share is quickly becoming a part of Capital Metro’s transit network, especially as a last-mile mobility solution, which Ballentine called “thinking beyond the bus.”
Since MetroBike’s rebranding last year from Austin B-cycle, three organizations now partner to provide the service: Capital Metro, the city of Austin and Bike Share of Austin, a nonprofit that handles day-to-day operations. A committee with members from all groups oversees the service.
“Moving people in a community is really complex, and it’s very interconnected,” Ballentine said. “The cool thing about this partnership that we have is it really embodies that concept of interconnectedness.”
Since the rebranding and reorganization, the MetroBike team has undertaken several initiatives to build its fleet and boost ridership.
In January, 147 new e-assist bikes were added on top of an initial 200 that were introduced last year. According to Ballentine, the e-assist bikes have helped drive the increased ridership. “The e-assist bikes get three to four times more ridership than those regular human-powered ones,” he said, “so we know that that is obviously a huge impact on people using the system, and it also increases usability for people with mobility concerns.”
Eventually, MetroBike plans to operate a 100 percent electric fleet.
A new generation of docks are also being tested. “They’re a single dock,” he said, “so they can fit into places where a traditional dock would not ever really work.”
On the digital side of things, MetroBike fares can now be purchased on the Capital Metro app alongside bus and rail fares. The integration, however, is still a work in progress. “We’re just sort of in phase one of that,” Ballentine said. “We want it to be a lot more intuitive and a lot more user-friendly, because you do have to have the MetroBike app in order to unlock the bike in most cases.”
MetroBike offers several types of fares. Riders can pay $1 to unlock a bike and are charged $0.23 per minute thereafter. Daily passes are $12.99, and weekend passes are $19.49. There are also unlimited-ride memberships priced at $11 per month and $86.60 annually.
MetroBike is developing a tool to analyze where future docks should go based on proximity to transit, bike network access and existing micromobility demand, among other factors. Though there is currently no funding for a MetroBike expansion, the tool is “laying the groundwork for a bigger system expansion,” Ballentine said. Even without funding identified, there will likely be many opportunities to grow the system through Project Connect and the 2016 and 2020 mobility bonds.
“It’s kind of an awesome time to be a bicyclist in Austin,” Ballentine said.
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