San Antonio B-Cycle is expanding its reach in the urban core with three additional bikeshare stations and 50 new and improved B-Cycle bikes.
The stations will be added next week to the front of the DoSeum on Broadway, Pearl Culinary Gardens and at San Antonio College.
J. D. Simpson, executive director of San Antonio Bike Share, the nonprofit that operates San Antonio B-Cycle, said the expansion is a way to keep up with the city’s growing urban core.
“Downtown is expanding in residential options, so we want to make sure that we’re providing good transportation options for the new and existing people in the area,” Simpson told City Council on Wednesday during an update on the bikeshare program.
Simpson was hired as the nonprofit’s first paid executive director last September after City Council approved funding for the position. She had previously worked for San Antonio B-Cycle, but left in 2013 to help launch the bikeshare program in Austin. Since her return, she has played a key role in the program’s expansion efforts, including the evaluation process of locations in the city for new bikeshare stations.
The nonprofit will stock bikeshare stations with 50 new “B-Cycle 2.0” bikes that updated features that are “easier to handle” than the heavier, bulkier bikes around the city today. Updates include a modified front basket to securely store items while riding and an advanced frame design for better balance.
The new bikes will hit the streets in April or May, Simpson said, and San Antonio Bike Share is hoping to launch an additional 100 updated bikes by this summer.
Both the new stations and bikes are being funded by the $1.2 million Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) grant the nonprofit received last year.
Douglas Melnick, the City’s sustainability director, said the nonprofit is still building a strong network of stations on which to expand.
“The big priority on the City side has really been focusing on evaluating the system and making sure that it’s been optimized, like moving stations that were underperforming or making sure that any maintenance (issues) have been addressed,” Melnick said. “We just really want to get the system running efficiently with what we have.”
A “key piece” going forward, he said, will be working with the San Antonio Bike Share board as they develop a business plan which will “focus on developing strategies around marketing, fundraising and making a financial forecast.”
The current nonprofit board is comprised of four previous members and four appointed by the City. The board members include Dr. Ken Ciolli, Roger Christian, Thomas McKenzie, Dr. William Shea, Sylvia Montemayor, Deborah Korinchock, Anita Ledbetter, and Melnick.
There is a ninth spot available, Simpson said, and the City and nonprofit are “looking at strategic partners to fill that spot.”
A lack of funding pushed the program to the brink of shut-down last year, but financial support from the City has kept it afloat. Since May of 2015, City Council has given San Antonio Bike Share more than $190,000 to help develop a business plan, fund the executive director position, and provide direct operational support for B-Cycle.
Of those funds, $25,000 went to establish a challenge match fundraising program where the City will match donations for operations or capital investments raised by San Antonio Bike Share between Oct, 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2016. Along with the City, both VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority and the San Antonio River Authority have each agreed to match up to $25,000, and the City will continue to seek public sector partnerships to secure up to $100,000 in matching funds for the program.
Though the advancements for San Antonio B-Cycle have its supporters hopeful, the program still remains in need of regular funding to sustain it longterm.
Mayor Ivy Taylor said the City is proud to offer support to San Antonio B-Cycle, but it can’t keep bailing bikeshare out.
“This certainly has been a successful program but … my opinion is that corporate sponsorships certainly would go a long way,” she said. “But we need to have a business plan and have questions answered in order to be able to approach those sponsors.”
There are ongoing discussions between the nonprofit and potential corporate sponsors, Simpson said, but none have been officially secured yet.
“We are developing and working on several new committees spinning off of the new board of directors that just met for the first time in January (and are) focusing on a much needed plan to secure those sponsorships,” she added.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) urged the nonprofit to engage in more trial-and-error testing of bikeshare station locations since he believes some locations are underused. He suggested expanding the stations to include more park areas.
San Antonio B-Cycle was the first bikeshare program implemented in Texas and since its launch in 2011 it has grown to include 55 bikeshare stations and 450 bikes in its network; soon to be 58 and 500, respectively.
Simpson remains hopeful for the future of San Antonio B-Cycle and acknowledged that building a successful program takes time and patience.
“Unfortunately it takes a lot longer than we all want it to, but I think we have to take a moment and step back and build that foundation first and make sure that what were doing is the right thing for the future,” she said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Pearl’s new station would be located at Hotel Emma and San Antonio College’s new station would be located at the William R. Sinkin Eco Centro. Additionally, the B-Cycle transfer van that was purchased was not purchased with the $1.2 million TXDOT grant as previously stated. It also stated that the City was hoping to partner with VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority and San Antonio River Authority (SARA) to secure more funding, but both VIA and SARA had already donated $25,000 each to the fund matching program.
*Top image: Douglas R. Melnick, City chief sustainability officer, and J. D. Simpson, executive director of San Antonio Bike Share, demonstrate new features on the lighter and easier to balance B-Cycle. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone