WE-cycle ridership numbers grew again in 2017 and have already surpassed last year’s record-breaking mark with about a month to go before stations in Aspen go into storage for the winter.

With over 40,000 rides using the bike-sharing service since May, WE-cycle is up 12 percent year to date, executive director Mirte Mallory said on Wednesday. Last year, the system provided a total 38,000 rides, she added.

Ridership on the midvalley arm of the system, which boasts 23 stations and 80 bikes between Basalt and El Jebel, is up 20 percent, she said, reinforcing WE-cycle’s position as a locally-serving transportation provider. Those Basalt stations will stay up at least through November, and possibly though the winter season if additional funding can be secured. Aspen features 110 bikes and 29 stations. Between the two networks, WE-cycle aims to provide “first and last mile” transit services.

Of all of this season’s WE-cycle rides, 87 percent are attributed to the system’s 1,555 season pass holders, according to information provided by the nonprofit organization. When the system launched in 2013, season pass holders, of which there were about 500, accounted for just 51 percent of the rides.

“Our goal has always been to be a transit-serving agency,” Mallory said, which would expect heavy use by locals.

The system’s growth can be attributed in large part to free season passes given out by government agencies and local businesses that sponsor the service in exchange for advertising on bikes and kiosks.

The city of Aspen and Eagle County offer free WE-cycle passes to those who sign up for a program encouraging alternative transportation. Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen Meadows and Ute Mountaineer are among the local businesses that are sponsors and offer free passes to employees.

Just 70, or roughly 4 percent, of this year’s 1,555 season passes were paid for, Mallory said. The rest came from a free program.

That raises a “real question of sustainability” for bike sharing, Mallory said. For better or worse, valley transit users have become accustomed to free service, accommodated through fare-free in-town shuttles in Aspen and Carbondale and fare-free rides between Aspen and Snowmass on RFTA.

It’s a powerful way to get people using alternative transportation and Mallory said WE-cycle is becoming an increasingly important part of the transit picture. But fare-free service requires more funding. A request last fall to the Elected Officials Transportation Committee that would have allowed free passes for anyone that wanted one was denied, although the board consisting of upper valley elected officials provided a $100,000 operating grant.

In June, the RFTA board committed to providing $100,000 a year in support for five years, which was WE-cycle’s first ever multi-year commitment, Mallory said. RFTA was one of the system’s original funders, providing capital and operational support, which paved the way for others to jump on board. Mallory said she hopes other private organizations and governments will again follow RFTA’s lead with multi-year commitments, which are critical to maintaining “stability and predictable planning.”

Being able to rely on bike-share kiosks being in the right places and having a bike or a dock available when needed is also critical to the public’s adoption of the system. WE-cycle will spend the fall and winter months looking at where new stations should be best located, while working on plans to expand to Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Nothing is certain yet, however, on when WE-cycle will be able to launch in those communities. Again, it’s a matter of funding.

WE-cycle will host an end-of-season party at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen on Nov. 2.

curtis@aspendailynews.com