San Antonio’s bike-sharing program will now be in the hands of a private company.
City Council voted Thursday to transfer operation of the city’s bike-share program to Wisconsin-based BCycle. The program was formerly operated by the nonprofit organization San Antonio Bike Share, but the group ran out of funding to support the bicycle-sharing program after Steward Health Care finished paying its sponsorship commitment in early 2020.
San Antonio Bike Share had established 65 docking stations and 650 bikes across the city as of January 2020. Currently, members of the bike-share program pay $11 for a day pass, $22 for a monthly pass, $100 for an annual pass, or $2.25 for every 30 minutes. Non-members can use the bikes for $3.75 per half-hour. When BCycle takes over operations, member costs will rise to $15 for a day pass, $25 for a monthly pass, $120 for a yearly pass, and $3 for every 30 minutes. Non-members will pay $5 for every 30 minutes.
“BCycle is a larger organization that manages bike-share systems as well as the capital infrastructure of the bikes, the docks, the operating system,” said John Jacks, director of the Center City Development and Operations Department. “Those are all owned and operated by BCycle. So we’re essentially turning over the current system to BCycle to operate, so there’ll be no disruption of service to users.”
The transfer of operations to BCycle was part of San Antonio Bike Share’s “long-term strategic plan,” the nonprofit’s executive director JD Simpson said. Employees of San Antonio Bike Share have the option of working for BCycle and she expects all 15 of them – including herself – to accept the offer. The nonprofit itself will dissolve.
Since the bike-share program started in 2010, the City has contributed $4.2 million to it, Jacks said. Almost all of that funding came from federal and state grant programs, Simpson said.
“A lot of those grants have dried up over the years as well,” she said. “The City really was not funding any of the stations, any of the equipment. … We were just looking at it from a long-term perspective, that we needed a really solid partner to be able to keep up to date and really keep servicing the San Antonio community the way it needs to be supported.”
The item was on San Antonio City Council’s consent agenda, which is rubber-stamped unless items are brought up for individual discussion. Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) pulled the item for individual consideration on Thursday because he said he was concerned that the City had invested so much into the bike program but had not seen any “return on investment.”
“I just wanted to make a point of this [and] wanted to make sure we’re transparent with this that there’s a company that we basically bought all the equipment [for], and they were given to them to operate,” he said. “And here we have a system that is … going out of business, and we’re transferring everything over to this next company.”
Most of the City’s funding went toward purchasing the bikes and building the stations, Jacks said. The City of San Antonio will continue to own the equipment. BCycle will use the equipment and maintain or replace things as needed.
“There’s no additional funding as part of this new agreement,” Jacks said.
“That’s music to my ears,” Perry said.
The bike-share program had seen less-than-robust participation before the coronavirus pandemic, especially with the rise of electric scooters, Jacks said. And while other cities with bike-share programs may have a strong user base of commuters, that does not seem to be the case in San Antonio.
“Our system’s a little bit different than a lot of other communities because we rely so heavily on recreational use,” he said. “That’s from visitors who are maybe want to go down to the Mission Reach or locals who are using it for that purpose. A lot of the stations were put in areas where we thought ridership would occur more for commuting. So I think that, in conjunction with just the lack of ability to find a large sponsor, is probably the biggest issue.”
Simpson said the coronavirus pandemic actually pushed an increase in the bike-share program’s ridership. Bike usage increased 75% during 2020’s summer months compared to 2019, she said.
“People were really using it more recreationally, like just going out and getting some sunshine and breathing some fresh air,” she said.
Simpson noted that ridership did take a hit in 2019 when electric scooters rose in popularity, but the overall number of rides between 2019 and 2020 increased significantly – from around 56,000 trips to nearly 90,000.
“It really jumped,” she said. “We were really excited and really busy. This year is tracking really strong as well.”
BCycle will assume operational responsibility of the bike-share program starting June 3. As part of the agreement, BCycle must also brief the Transportation and Mobility Council Committee on an annual basis.
Council members also unanimously approved a $5.4 million funding agreement between the Inner City TIRZ board of directors, Housing First Community Coalition, and the City of San Antonio that will help construct the Towne Twin Village, a permanent housing project that aims to house homeless seniors.