Metro’s board of directors voted Thursday to negotiate a contract with a Canadian company to launch Houston’s second bike-share program, but left unclear how – or whether – the two bicycle rental operations might work together to provide a sustainable alternative to automobile transportation.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority board vote came one day after Houston City Council approved a measure giving Houston Bike Share $540,000 to keep its Houston BCycle operation afloat for as long as another year while Metro prepares to launch its own program.
Houston Bike Share leaders earlier this week said that without additional funding, the nonprofit would shut down its program within two months because revenues from bike rentals were not enough to support the service. The bike share program began in 2012 with just three stations and 18 bikes, but quickly expanded to more than 150 stations and 928 bikes.
Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday directed the city’s planning department to work with Houston Bike Share on how those funds will be spent and what to do about the 90-or-so BCycle stations that have been shuttered in the past year.
Meanwhile, Metro’s board voted to authorize its staff to negotiate a three-year contract, with options for an additional two years, worth up to $10.5 million with Quebec-based PBSC Urban Solutions to develop and operate a new bike-share program.
Metro officials previously had offered no clear indication whether the agency would work with Houston Bike Share as it rolls out its program, beyond suggesting both operations could exist in some fashion. Thursday was no different.
“Everything is an exploration moving forward, and nothing is precluded,” Metro Chief Financial Officer George Fotinos said.
Metro President and CEO Tom Lambert was equally noncommittal.
“We’ve already had ongoing discussion with the city about the BCycle program, so it’s not new to us right now,” he said. “I don’t know what (the planning department’s) next steps are, so let’s see what their next steps are and we’ll go from there.”
Those conversations with the planning department could involve finding ways to transfer station locations between the two programs.
Metro officials previously had said it would take $10 million to adequately upgrade Houston BCycle’s equipment for the transit agency’s bike-share program.
“We’re not going back, we’re going forward, and that’s where we’re at,” Lambert said Thursday.
Houston Bike Share Chairman Neeraj Tandon attended Thursday’s Metro board meeting, and offered his support for Metro’s plan. He also offered BCycle’s existing infrastructure and more than a decade of expertise helping get Metro’s plan off the ground.
“Houston Bike Share wants to phase out as Metro phases in,” Tandon said.
Houston’s chief transportation planner, David Fields, pointed out the two systems had different equipment and software. Still, he said, opportunities exist to use current bike-share infrastructure to build out the future of the service in the city.
“We’re certainly going to work with both systems, especially where connections to transit, which is Metro’s focus, would make the most sense,” FIelds said. Metro currently is working with a consultant to plan how its bike-share system will be rolled out.
BikeHouston Executive Director Joe Cutrufo said he was encouraged by the city council and the Metro board votes, calling the decisions “a clear statement on where Houston is on car-free mobility.”
“In order to make sure the Metro system is a success, there needs to be continuity and bike-share doesn’t go away at any point,” Cutrufo said. “Metro needs to coordinate with and learn from Houston Bike Share and their experience running bike-share for over a decade.”
PBSC Urban Solutions has supplied bike-share programs in 31 cities in 15 countries, including New York, Montreal, and Boston. In Houston, the initial rollout will include 140 e-bikes, 20 grid-connected and solar-ready charging stations, and 200 docking points. Those numbers could jump up to 700 bikes and 100 charging stations over five years.
According to Metro, its bike-share program should be ready to launch in summer 2024.