We cycle in Aspen: Bike sharing shows promising numbers

 

Aspen’s bike sharing program has been experiencing an average of about 100 trips per day in its initial roll out, a volume that organizers say is better than they were expecting for the first few weeks.

WE-cycle co-founder Mirte Mallory said that people are still catching on to the system, which is the first bike sharing program in a North American mountain town, so she expects usage to grow. But in the program’s first 18 days, there were 1,888 rides, 200 season passes bought, and 257 day pass holders signed up, according to Mallory.

“Three weeks into the program, our numbers are on track and actually exceeding expectations,” Mallory said.

Perhaps the toughest challenge bike sharing faces, according to Mallory, is communicating the concept that when a person checks out a bike, it should be for a half hour or less. A day pass grants access to the system for 24 hours, meaning a person has unlimited check-outs during that time, but a bike can’t be kept all day long. Users start incurring additional fees if a bike is not returned to a kiosk after 30 minutes.  

“That’s a really important concept we are trying to explain,” Mallory said.

With 13 stations spread throughout the city of Aspen, most point-to-point rides on WE-cycle take far less than 30 minutes, Mallory noted. She said there have been “one or two” instances when someone didn’t understand the system and kept one of the $1,200-a-piece bikes far longer than 30 minutes.

The success of the system hinges on there being kiosks near the start and end points of popular routes. Mallory said traffic patterns so far are showing the greatest ridership between town and the Clark’s Market/post office area, where there is a kiosk; commuters who live near Aspen Valley Hospital also are using that station regularly to check out a bike and head into town. Paepcke Park and Rubey Park stations also are proving popular with Roaring Fork Transit Authority bus riders, she said.

“It’s fantastic to see patterns developing and people using the system in really wonderful ways,” Mallory said, adding that bike sharing is designed for trips across town, or for “that last mile of transit” when one gets off the bus.

After the first season of use — the bikes will be put away for the winter — WE-cycle will evaluate its data, and consider where new stations might go.

“We’ve gotten a lot of requests for new stations,” she said.

Potential sites for new stations as part of a future “phase two” include the Hunter Creek condos, the Aspen Recreation Center and Aspen schools campus, Eighth Street and the Airport Business Center.

The program was funded with a quarter-million in public dollars, through the federal government’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, as well as local matching funds. Private foundations and local institutions, as well as a public “adopt a bike” program, covered the balance of the $500,000 in start-up capital costs, according to Mallory.

WE-cycle’s operating expenses are paid for by pass sales, as well as the program’s title sponsor — Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty — and lower-level sponsors that purchase ads on the bikes’ baskets.

The program also has two kiosks on city of Aspen streets, which use a total of two parking spaces between them. The city donated the spaces in support of bike sharing.

The kiosks themselves are solar powered and accept credit cards. To get a bike after checking out, lift it by the seat. When returning a bike to a kiosk, give it a good shove and make sure the light on the dock turns green.

Anticipating demand that outstrips the capacity of a single kiosk from folks heading to concerts at the Benedict Music Tent in the West End, WE-cycle will operate a staffed bike corral in the parking lot near the tent. There, WE-cycle employees, of which there are a total of seven, will check bikes in so users don’t incur fees, and then check them back out to concertgoers heading back into town when the music ends.

WE-cycle also is giving away free day passes and showing people how the system works on Fridays through the end of July. To participate, go to the selected station during the scheduled time. For more information, visit WE-cycle.org.

curtis@aspendailynews.com