Existing Swell Cycle stations now have the ability to dock the new E-bikes throughout San Antonio.
San Antonio Bike Share, previously Swell Cycle, could shut down after title sponsor Southwest General Hospital pulled out of their sponsorship agreement early. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Bike Share, the nonprofit docked bicycle provider that has a contract with the City, has launched 25 e-bikes, several months after the City of San Antonio issued a moratorium on dockless electric vehicles. The white, pedal-assist bicycles are a “clutter-free” alternative to the dockless e-scooters and e-bikes that have pervaded the city, the organization’s top official said.

Emblazoned with a yellow lightning bolt, Swell Cycle‘s e-bikes have been placed in several docking stations downtown, said JD Simpson, the organization’s executive director.

Swell Cycle, the name of San Antonio Bike Share’s citywide program, has taken a bit of a hit since last year’s arrival of electric scooters – and later, electric bicycles. Simpson said a decline in usage of the docked, classic bicycles has coincided with the dockless trend in San Antonio. The City has authorized seven operators of the rented, smartphone-enabled vehicles as part of a pilot program launched in October to test regulations for the nascent industry. The local fleet of dockless vehicles has swelled to more than 16,000.

Still, Swell Cycle plans to grow its e-bike fleet to about 200, Simpson said, and ultimately, will look at whether to replace its entire fleet of classic bicycles.

“It’s a consideration,” she said. “In our bike-share master plan we did last year, we talked about evaluating it. What they’ve found in pilot programs in other cities [is] people still wanted classic bikes. They wanted to have options. We’re going to see what that looks like.”

Swell Cycle may even move to a dockless system in the future, she said.

“Will they always be station-based? I don’t know,” Simpson said. “We’re going to evaluate that and see what the interest of the city is. I think right now there is so much clutter out there that we said we’re going to stay station-based.”

Swell Cycle began as San Antonio Bicycle in 2011, launching the first bike-share program in Texas. Unlike dockless vehicles, which can be parked anywhere that isn’t restricted by the company-operated software, Swell Cycle bikes must be checked out and checked in at a docking station. Riders can activate them with either a membership card or a credit card at payment kiosks in the docking stations.

Renting a Swell Cycle e-bike costs the same as renting a classic bicycle. Payment options include $3.25 for a 30-minute trip, $12.99 for a day pass, $19.49 for a monthly membership, and $100 for an annual membership.

The pedal-assist e-bikes max out at 15 mph for automatic pedaling. They are not, however, equipped with a throttle, so a user’s speed depends on how fast he or she can pedal.

Fort Worth’s B-Cycle program launched e-bikes earlier this month. Simpson said e-bikes will arrive in other B-Cycle markets this summer.

In the meantime, Swell Cycle’s usage numbers continue to dip in the dockless era. The San Antonio market saw about a 40 percent drop in trips completed from the first quarter in 2018 to the first quarter in 2019, according to data Simpson provided. The first e-scooters were released in San Antonio last June.

Although trip data has trended slightly upward in recent months, San Antonio Bike Share hopes its new e-bikes can help turn the tide of declining usage.

San Antonio Bike Share has more than 500 classic rental bikes available in 65 docking stations throughout the city.

“What does the future hold for us? We’re not sure,” Simpson said. “We’re waiting to see how the community reacts – if they’re interested in these at all.”

San Antonio Bike Share will hold a press conference in Confluence Park to announce the addition of the e-bikes on Saturday. The press conference will coincide with its Pedal in the Park event from 9 a.m. to noon.

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.