The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is expected to contract with a Canadian operator that will provide up to 700 e-bikes and 100 charging stations as the agency embarks on the creation of its own bike-share program.
The proposed three-year contract, with options for two additional years, valued at as much as $10.5 million, is scheduled to be considered by Metro’s board of directors next week.
The move could seal the fate of struggling Houston BCycle, the bike share operator that launched in 2012, and quickly expanded to more than 150 docking stations across the city. Riders pay one-time rental fees to use bicycles and return them to any docking station, or can purchase memberships for more frequent use.
The decision came one day after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the city would invest $500,000 in Houston BCycle in an attempt to give the nonprofit Houston Bike Share a chance to find other public or private partnerships to keep the operation afloat. The mayor said the financial lifeline would be on next week’s city council agenda.
In a statement, Turner’s office said the mayor’s funding announcement had nothing to do with Metro’s decision on a bike share vendor.
“The city funding is planned to sustain the current level of (BCycle)while the (Metro) decisions are made this year,” the statement said.
Houston Bike Share Chair Neeraj Tandon and Vice Chair James Llamas announced in a Sunday Houston Chronicle op-ed the BCycle bike-share program likely would shut down operations within the next two months due to major financial difficulties. After rapidly expanding in the years after launch, the program operated at a deficit of more than $100,000 in fiscal 2022.
“We proved that there is a demand for bike share in Houston when it’s offered at a nominal cost. But our experience has also shown that rental fees alone can’t support a robust bike share system here,” the pair wrote.
Tandon was not immediately available for comment on Metro’s decision Thursday.
BCycle – not Houston Bike Share – was among four bidders seeking a contract with Metro. Houston Bike Share is a nonprofit that operates the Houston BCycle bike-share program. BCycle was not one of the top two bidders chosen for oral presentations by Metro’s technical committee.
The transit agency’s Public Safety, Customer Service and Operations Committee voted Thursday in support of a recommendation to put a proposal for negotiations with Quebec-based PBSC Urban Solutions before Metro’s full board of directors. The company, according to BikeHouston executive director Joe Cutrufo, provides equipment for some of North America’s most established bike-share programs in Montreal, New York City and Chicago.
“The equipment is head and shoulders above BCycle’s equipment,” Cutrufo said,
PBSC operates in 31 cities across 15 countries, including 12 cities in the United States.
The company initially will bring in 140 e-bikes, 20 grid-connected and solar-ready charging stations, and 200 docking points at launch, with plans to add to those numbers every year of the potential five-year contract. The contract also includes Shift Transit as a subcontractor to take care of daily operational tasks, such as bike and station maintenance and manning a 24/7 call center.
The focus for the new program will be on seamless integration into Metro’s current services. The new program will be a part of the agency’s Trip app for planning travel and will be a part of the future fare collection system set to launch next summer.
“From the get-go, we’ve agreed it’s a good idea to have bike share be integrated with the transportation system because bike share is public transportation,” Cutrufo said.
In January, Houston Bike Share thought it had an agreement with Metro in place for the transit agency to absorb Houston Bcycle’s operations. From Metro’s perspective, the agreement was for a six-month period to evaluate the current state of operations. In May, the agency put out a request for proposals for implementing a new bike-share system.
Metro Chief Financial Officer George Fotinos said BCycle’s existing operation does not align with Metro’s multimodal model. He suggested, however, that both Houston BCycle and Metro’s program could operate in Houston.
According to Fotinos, the technology and asset base offered by BCycle were out of line with where Metro wants to go. Metro staff estimated it would take about $10 million to bring the BCycle equipment up to its standards.
Beyond that, Metro officials said they did not want to jump into a program with a vendor they did not choose.
“This would be an efficient way to get to a bike-share program,” Fotinos said.
Cutrufo said the quality of a PBSC bike-share system will be an improvement for the city. However, he has lingering concerns about whether Houstonians would have a bike-share program that meets their expectations for coverage.
“Houstonians have come to expect a bike-share system that covers much of the urban core of the city, and I don’t think you can do that with only 20 stations,” Cutrufo said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized a vote by Metro’s Public Safety, Customer Service and Operations Committee. The story has been updated to reflect that the committee voted in support of a recommendation to send the matter to the full board of directors.