An Aspen bike sharing program set to launch in May has secured about two-thirds of the $650,000 in necessary start-up costs from the government and from private businesses or foundations. Its founder is hoping the community can come through with the rest by “adopting” and personalizing individual bikes.
For $1,500, a person or group of people can inscribe a message on the fender of one bike, where it will stay for five years. Or, you could adopt four bikes for $5,000.
Noting that the maximum length of the inscription will be 45 characters, Mirte Mallory, director of the nonprofit WE-Cycle, said messages are intended to be respectful, celebratory or in honor of a friend or loved one. The organization will screen messages for offensive or inappropriate content if necessary, she said.
“It could be about how much you love Aspen, how fun it is to bike, or a tribute to someone,” she said. “Bike sharing in the end will be community funded and that is the goal of the capital campaign.”
After two years of planning, Mallory is about to place an order for 10 kiosks and 100 bikes. Five of the bikes have already been adopted.
Kiosks are planned for the gondola plaza, Rubey Park, City Hall, the post office, City Market, the Rio Grande parking garage, Paepcke Park, Aspen Valley Hospital, the Aspen Institute and Aspen Meadows. Mallory is eyeing more kiosks at Centennial, Hunter Creek, the Aspen Club and other areas, but those will not be set for the roll out this spring.
Bike sharing programs, which according to Mallory are now active in 450 communities worldwide, allow anyone to check out a bike from a solar-powered, fully-automated, credit-card-accepting kiosk and return it to any other kiosk. WE-Cycle is planning to offer a day pass for between $5 and $8, Mallory said, but the program is designed for each trip to be 30 minutes or less. While a day pass allows a rider to check out a bike multiple times in a day, the user incurs more charges if the bike is away from a kiosk for more than 30 minutes at a time. That way, the program will not compete with bike shops’ rental business, and in fact, WE-Cycle kiosks and bikes will direct people to area bike shops, she said.
WE-Cycle will also have other options, such as a six-month pass for around $50 that will allow unlimited 30-minute checkouts, and weekly passes for tourists. The bike-sharing program will run from May through November, with the kiosks and bikes put into storage for the winter.
The bikes themselves are heavier than normal bikes and have three gears. Operating costs for the program are intended to be covered by the user fees and advertising space on the bike baskets that will be sold to businesses.
About one-third of the program’s start-up costs are publicly funded. To get the program off the ground, the federal government, through its Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program, is providing $194,557, while Pitkin County is kicking in $24,666 and the city of Aspen is giving $6,023. WE-Cycle applied for the federal funds through the local governments, which have an allotment of CMAQ dollars they can use for programs to cut down on traffic and improve air quality. Both the city and county provided matching dollars and secured the federal funds on behalf of WE-Cycle, which lobbied elected officials for the grants in 2011. The initial goal was to start the program in the summer of 2011.
Private foundations and businesses have contributed $229,000, accounting for about one-third of the capital needs. Those groups include the Aspen Institute, Aspen Meadows, Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen Valley Hospital, The Nick DeWolf Foundation and the Myers Roberts Collective. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) is also supporting the bike-sharing program, since the hope is that people will be more likely to take the bus to Aspen if they can check out a bike for quick trips around town. Mallory added that in some cities like Paris, bus passes double as bike-sharing membership cards, and that she would like to pursue a similar initiative with RFTA as it gets ready to implement its bus rapid transit system.
To raise the remaining $195,754 in start-up capital, WE-Cycle is launching the adopt-a-bike program, selling the naming rights to kiosks and is seeking a “presenting sponsor” that will get its name on all the bikes.
The bike sharing equipment, being transportation infrastructure, is expensive, Mallory said, and the bikes and kiosks are designed to withstand wear and tear. The service will also incorporate high-tech features such as mobile applications that will tell users how many bikes there are at each kiosk in real time.
Mallory noted that funds contributed through the adopt-a-bike capital campaign are tax deductible.
Explaining the two-year delay in getting started, Mallory said building the program is a complex process, and particularly two years ago, bike sharing was a new concept, at least in the U.S. It has grown exponentially since then and is now either in the planning stages or operating in most major American cities. New York City is set to roll out its bike sharing program next year with over 400 kiosks, Mallory said.
Aspen would be the first U.S. resort community to adopt bike sharing, Mallory said.
Mallory said she likes the program’s emphasis on blending the fun and freedom of biking with what might otherwise be mundane errands or quick trips around town.