CAPITAL REGION — In its first month of operation, the Capital Region bike-share program exceeded its membership goal, with those members taking nearly 4,300 bicycle rides.
Officials with the Capital District Transportation Committee and CDPHPCycles! had hoped for 500 people to sign up in the first month of operation, but as of Wednesday, the total registrations had exceeded 1,200.
"We were past 500 memberships in the first week of the program," said CDTA spokeswoman Jaime Watson. "This has taken off bigger than anybody ever anticipated."
As of Friday, there had been 4,262 CDPHPCycles! rides taken since the program's four-city launch on July 27. There were 2,920 riders in Albany, 632 in Saratoga Springs, 375 in Troy and 292 in Schenectady.
Albany has the most bike-share kiosks, as well as being the region's largest city.
The idea of a bike-share program is that people rent bicycles within a network of self-service stations, returning the bikes to the same station or to another station within the network. The bikes are GPS-equipped, so their locations can be tracked remotely.
In launching the program, the Capital Region is joining a booming movement, especially for urban areas. There are bike-share programs in more than 60 communities in the United States and in more than 300 communities worldwide, according to the North American Bikeshare Association. That group said participating communities include large cities, college towns and some small cities.
CDTA, which is best-known for providing regional bus service, began mulling a bike-share program after a pilot program was deemed successful in 2014, and committed to it in 2016. CDTA recently received an excellence award from the American Public Transportation Association for its innovations, including launching the bike-share.
The racks where bikes can be obtained are placed at selected locations in Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga Springs and Troy. People who have downloaded the smartphone application or registered online can pay for a bike, then enter a code and password to unlock it from the rack.
Watson said data indicates that in Albany, many people are using the bicycles to commute to work or school, while in Saratoga Springs, the use has been primarily recreational.
The Daily Gazette visited several bike-share kiosks in Saratoga Springs and Schenectady on Thursday and Friday in an effort to interview riders but encountered none. All the kiosks, though, appeared to have bikes out and being used.
In Saratoga, the system was launched as the tourism season was getting into full swing. Thursday morning, people drifting by on the sidewalk frequently checked out the bike kiosk on Broadway near Congress Park, apparently satisfying their curiosity.
"It really is a good idea," said Jacques Boucher, of Montreal, who has been visiting Saratoga Springs annually for 50 years. "Montreal has them."
Cindy Wall, who staffs the Broadway visitors' center for the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said she's regularly asked about the bikes, but most of the ridership seems to occur on weekends.
"It will be interesting to see how it does after the tourists leave," she said.
Michael Franchini, executive director of the Capital District Transportation Committee, said officials are pleased with how things have gone. His organization conducts studies and reviews regional transportation spending. It was involved in planning the bike-share program.
"It's difficult to measure demand for something new like that, so you're usually conservative," he said. "Anecdotally, it seems to be really popular right now."
He said corporate sponsorship is critically important, and he praised the Albany-based CDPHP health plan for providing that sponsorship.
Under this year's program, there are 160 bicycles spread across the region, but that will grow to 320 in the spring, thanks to a $2 million state grant awarded for the project. A separate $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation is helping get the network off the ground.
The CDPHPCycle! system will run through late November, and in the future will operate from April through November.
The basic rate for renting a CDPHPCycle! bicycle is $5 per hour, but there is a steep discount for repeated use: A monthly pass allowing 60 minutes of ride time per day costs $15. There is also an annual pass being offered for $70, and a student's annual pass for $35. The annual passes also allow for 60 minutes of riding time per day.
Watson said the majority of registrations so far have been for monthly rentals.
Social Bicycles of Brooklyn is providing the bikes and operating the system..
There are seven kiosks in Schenectady, including locations at Riverside Park in the Stockade; Schenectady County Community College; at Jay and State streets, the Vale Park entrance on Nott Terrace; Union Street and Nott Terrace; the Schenectady County Public Library central branch; and North Jay Street near the bike path entrance.
There are also seven locations in Saratoga Springs: at Saratoga Spa State Park; the Saratoga YMCA; Saratoga Race Course; on Spring Street opposite Congress Park; Broadway at Congress Park; Division Street and Broadway; and Caroline Street and Pavilion Place.
To register for the program, visit the website at cdphpcycle.com.