As a traveler, I’ve often wished it was easy to spontaneously rent a bicycle and pedal for a few hours of leisurely exploration.
The United States is behind the curve when it comes to that sort of thing. All over the world, visitors can find long racks of publicly owned bicycles for rent in large cities.
A bike can be a quick way to get from Point A to Point B with fewer traffic hassles than driving, or dealing with the true bane of a successful city: finding parking.
More and more U.S. cities are catching on to the benefits of bike sharing. CitiBike, launched in New York City three years ago, is a success, and so is Indego in Philadelphia.
Could it work in the Capital Region? The Capital District Transportation Authority is betting on it.
Bike sharing got a trial run in the Capital Region’s four main cities in the summer of 2014, and based on the results, a permanent bike share program will be coming to the region sometime next year.
CDTA officials are reviewing proposals from private companies to supply the bikes, set up and run the system. The goal is to launch it next year.
“It’s going to happen in 2017, probably in the middle of the year,” CDTA CEO Carm Basile told me this week.
Under bike-share programs, a stockpile of “community” bikes can be rented at one rack, and returned to the same rack, or to another rack in the network.
There will be multiple bike racks in the region’s hub cities: Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga Springs and Troy.
It could reduce traffic congestion in downtown Albany, and sidestep the hunt for parking in Saratoga Springs. Saratoga visitors could ride a bike from Broadway to the track, for example. Get there faster, too.
Or you could simply look at it as a healthier way to make a short trip, for both yourself and the planet, than jumping into the car.
The bikes are made heavy-duty, to withstand the abuse of potholes and other urban hazards. The bikes have GPS tracking devices and proprietary features that should discourage theft.
Users will pay with credit cards or the CDTA Navigator cards the authority is in the process of rolling out.
The only other bike-share operating upstate is in Buffalo. While it is most common in large cities, there are regional bike-share programs in Florida and Ohio in that have demographics similar to the Capital Region’s.
Officials have also factored for the weather — though committed cyclists rode right through last year’s mild winter. Many renters, though, are likely to be inexperienced riders.
“The plan right now is to have it up and running during the bikeable months, March to November,” said Lauren Bailey, CDTA’s mobility coordinator.
You might think inexperienced riders would be unsafe riders, but studies of bike-share programs have shown the opposite — inexperienced riders are more cautious and don’t take the risks experienced riders do.
A local bike-share will cost $500,000 to $750,000 to get off the ground. CDTA hopes federal and state money will cover most of the cost, though the authority it also open to corporate sponsorships.
If only part of the money is there, the program could be rolled out in phases or city-by-city. At full implementation the Capital Region program includes 280 to 300 bicycles.
Basile said the actual cost, and the cost to ride, won’t be known until a contractor is hired, which could happen as soon as late November.
“It’s generally going to pretty affordable; we will try to make it similar to the cost of the bus,” Bailey said.
The bike-share initiative is happening at the same time that CDTA — a bus company, at its core — is getting ready to take over regulatory oversight of the Capital Region’s taxi cab companies.
“It is no secret that we want to push the boundaries of who we are and what we do,” Basile said.