WE-cycle ridership up, expansion mulled

 

Bike program grows by 76 percent over 2013

The WE-cycle program saw a huge increase in ridership in 2014, and has caught the eye of downvalley municipalities as a way to help link residents to the Roaring Fork Valley’s mass transit system.

WE-cycle co-founder Mirte Mallory went before the Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday to present last year’s figures, which show the bike-sharing program is picking up speed in Aspen.

Use grew by 76 percent in 2014 with 17,671 rides, of which 63 percent were taken by season passholders, amounting to more than 33,000 miles in 171 days. The average ride time for these passholders was eight minutes.

There were 10,035 rides taken in 2013.

“This system is primarily being used by those of us who [work and live here] and commute to town,” Mallory said.

The number of locals purchasing the season pass grew by 40 percent last year, up to 465. This year’s $50 passes go on sale in April.

She said there were around 2,100 day-pass users last year from 943 different zip codes from around the U.S. Their rides lasted around 19 minutes on average.

New stations planned

There are currently 14 stations in Aspen, with more planned for the future. We-cycle is the only small-town bike sharing program in North America.

Mallory said the three most requested spots to add stations are near Eighth and Hallam streets; at the Red Brick Center for the Arts; and at the Truscott apartment complex.

She said Aspen Meadows is very supportive of having a station at Eighth Street and has committed to fund half the cost of building a station there.

“We are looking for a sponsor for the other half to make that station a reality this year,” Mallory added.

But Commissioner George Newman warned that Eighth Street is a dangerous area for bicyclists.

“For me there’s a safety concern depending on the route those riders would take,” he said. “Will they have to cross Highway 82 at that dangerous intersection, or navigate the S-curves, or use the back streets?”

Mallory said that the station is planned for the site of a current bike rack just west of the old Poppies location.

“Cyclists would be directed to either go through the West End or cross at the pedestrian crosswalk,” she said. “As that area gets more solidified in terms of what its future is, we’ll work with those partners to hopefully integrate a WE-cycle station into that spot. … It’s a critical location and safety is important for sure.”

The Red Brick Council for the Arts has also agreed to fund half the cost of a station near its facility on Hallam, as long as WE-cycle can find funding for the other half.

“We’re trying to fill a couple of these gaps for our riders,” Mallory said. “I’m not sure if we’ll be able to, but we’re doing our best.”

Mallory noted that the Hopkins Avenue/Restaurant Row station was the busiest one in the city, followed by the Paepcke Park and CP Burger/Rubey Park locations.

“You’re starting to hear some themes that our riders like the independence of WE-cycle,” she said. “They like the spontaneity. They like that they don’t have to be responsible for [the bikes] when they’re not there.”

By watching the commuter flow, WE-cycle staff knows which stations to have loaded with bikes at certain times, and also when to have available docking space as they return.

WE-cycle’s kiosks are solar powered and accept credit cards. They offer use of the bikes in 30-minute intervals, with a late fee kicking in for longer rides.

A day pass holder can make as many 30-minute trips as they wish in a given day.

Mallory said that 93 percent of the rides are for less than a half hour.

She added that the program is also helping to take vehicles off of Highway 82, and kept an estimated 22,000 pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere last year.

Mallory noted that 85 percent of WE-cycle riders also utilize the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus system and 32 percent use the bikes to commute to work at least once a week.

She noted that 30 percent of riders said they utilized WE-cycle to avoid traffic, and 46 percent to avoid parking in the city. Sixty percent of riders said they use the system to get in some exercise, 83 percent to attend social events and entertainment, and 90 percent to run errands. Of those riders, 91 percent own bicycles, but still use the system.

Mallory noted that they see a spike in ridership at night when the bars close.

A valleywide WE-cycle system?

Mallory said that Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have all approached WE-cycle about adding a system.

“We are working with them in conversations as to how we can add WE-cycle systems in these various communities,” she said. “The vision would be that there would be one pass, one system throughout the valley.”

Currently, 57 percent of riders are from Aspen, and 11 percent live in the El Jebel/Basalt area, with the rest dispersed throughout the valley.

Commissioner Steve Child suggested that if the program took off in Glenwood, stations should be placed at the community center, Hot Springs Pool, and the 27th Street RFTA Bus Rapid Transit station.

Program lost $7,000 in 2014

In 2014, WE-cycle brought in $217,000 in revenue, and had $224,000 in expenses.

Mallory said WE-cycle’s goals going forward are to grow ridership, expand the service area, and secure more sponsors to help keep revenues up.

Forty-five percent of the funding came from sponsors, with 21 percent from pass sales and late fees, and donations and grants making up most of the remainder.

The program was funded in 2013 with a quarter-million in public dollars, through the federal government’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), 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.

She said WE-cycle is still searching for more funding sources and with a little generosity and teamwork, the program can keep growing.

“We can put a road map together as to how we can be successful and sustainable,” Mallory said. “So we can little by little, pedal ourselves to that clean air in this beautiful place we all enjoy living in.”

collin@aspendailynews.com