Automated bike sharing is coming to a Capital Region city near you.
A system that has helped riders easily borrow durable bicycles to navigate large urban centers will get a test market in the area’s four largest cities this summer as part of a pilot program through the Capital District Transportation Committee. Starting next month, the bike sharing program will spend a week in each of the area’s four urban hubs and allow registered riders to grab one of 25 bicycles at kiosks around the city.
After week-long stint in Schenectady next month, the bikes will head east to Troy’s Riverfront Park, where the program will enter its next leg of the trial. Stations on Division Street in Saratoga Springs and then Albany’s Washington Park will follow, giving cyclists from all four major urban centers in the Capital Region a shot at utilizing the unique program.
CDTC Executive Director Michael Franchini said the idea is to gauge regional interest in the program. Participants will be asked to complete a short survey, and the CDTC will compile usage data generated from each city to see where the bicycles were most utilized.
CDTC is employing Buffalo BikeShare, a company that has operated a program in the western part of the state for two years. Buffalo utilizes “Social Bicycle” brand bikes — also called SOBI — which feature a state-of-the-art GPS system that allows riders to find other kiosks and even call for help in the event of a breakdown.
“In Buffalo, BikeShare is quickly becoming an integral part of the livening urban scene, with a strong positive response from university students, city residents, and local businesses,” said Anders Gunnersen, Buffalo BikeShare’s director.
Schenectady’s Jay Street station will be running between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., starting July 10. A credit card will be required as security to borrow one of the bicycles, according to organizers, but cyclists will then be able to use the bikes in any city during any week of the pilot program.
In Buffalo, riders are able to reserve a bike using a 4-digit code entered via a mobile app or on a keypad installed on the bike itself. To end a trip, riders simply return the bikes to racks set up at hub locations, where they are again locked to a rack.
Buffalo’s program costs an annual membership fee of $30 and is limited mostly to University at Buffalo students. The program allows riders to use the bikes for an hour per day at no added charge, and assesses a fee of $3 per each additional hour.
A similar automated bike-sharing program is under way at the Skidmore College campus in Saratoga Springs, though it is free for students and faculty.
Skidmore’s sharing program started years ago and operated much like checking a book out of a library. Anyone with a Skidmore ID who had filled out a waiver could check out one of the bikes at the library circulation desk and use it for up to 24 hours.
The system went automated earlier this month after the college was awarded a $20,000 grant through the Margaret Cargill Foundation.
“The response has been unbelievable,” said Levi Rogers, the college’s sustainability coordinator. “Even though it’s the summer, we’ve had over 60 people register for the program.”
Skidmore keeps 15 shaft-driven bikes in circulation at one time, with five others in storage in case of breakdowns. Students are assigned a six-digit identification number that allows them to borrow the bikes for up to 24 hours.
“We spent a lot of time researching different programs and this one seemed to fit Skidmore best,” he said.
Automated bike sharing programs have started to make inroads in both ends of the state. New York City is now home to the largest automated bike share program in the nation, which includes roughly 330 docking stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Established last year, the membership-based program allows users to sign up at any station kiosk with a credit card, or obtain an annual membership by enrolling online. Citi Bike charges an annual membership fee of $95 or 24-hour rates of around $10.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen believes the pilot program in the Capital Region fits right in with her city’s efforts to promote environmentally friendly initiatives.
“With our continued priorities of sustainability and ensuring our streets serve the needs of all users- whether biking, walking, taking a bus, or driving,” she said in a statement, “this trial bike share provides an opportunity for our residents and visitors to try out the concept within our city.”