On Wednesday, May 2, Houston B-cycle began with Mayor Annise Parker, State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-13), State Representative Carol Alvarado (D-145), City Counselor at large Jack Cristie, Sustainability and Director Laura Spanjian, all bike enthusiasts, riding the new bikes around the block from Lamar Street along Bagby and up McKinney Street to the new kiosk on the south side of City Hall. They were joined by Bob Burns, President of B-Cycle, LLC, Darren Saborn, President of Bike Houston, Bob Eury, Executive Director of the Downtown District, Dawn Ulrich, President of Houston First, Neil Bremner, Director of Houston Bike Share and owner of Bike Barn, and David Hitchcock, Director of Sustainable Transportation Programs, Houston Advanced Research Center.
Mayor Parker and Ms. Spanjian outlined the goals of the pilot program beginning with 18 bikes at 3 kiosks (City Hall, Discovery Green, and George R. Brown Convention Center). Over the next year, the plan is to expand the program to 20 kiosks and 200 bicycles throughout the city.
The initial phase was funded by a grant through a US Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Showcase grant. The expansion will be funded through a US Department of Energy American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus grant. For the first year, Bike Barn, Houston's largest independent bicycle retailer with locations in Houston, will donate maintenance for the bikes.
The program will be part of the B-Cycle system already in place in 15 US Cities. The program features bikes equipped with RFID identification and GPS chips to maximize identification and tracking of the bikes. The B-Cycle program tracks the time used and distance traveled. The system also notes metrics for individual users, including calories burned, greenhouse fuel savings, and weight lost.
In addition, each bike comes with a basket and a key-operated cable lock to facilitate security and a variety of short trips such as shopping or picnic lunches in downtown parks.
All the participants attested to the ease of use and comfort of the bikes. State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-13), one of the most avid and best-known bikers in public office, mentioned that an important factor is the comfort of the seats, which are adjustable for people of all sizes and weights.
Memberships will be available at rates of $5 per day, $15 per week, or $50 per year. Once a bike is checked out, it can be used for 90 minutes without charge. The user can return it to any kiosk and resume use during the membership period. However, if a bike is not returned within 90 minutes an hourly charge of $2 applies for each 90-minute period to a maximum of $55 dollars.
The bikes can be checked out from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM and returned any time even if the kiosk is officially closed.
B-Cycle also provides a list of frequently asked questions on the B-cycle web site addressing potential problems such as flat tires.