WE-cycle will offer free access to its bike-share network next summer after securing additional public financing for 2018.

Aspen City Council earlier this month approved a $145,000 grant to the organization, which was the first bike-share platform in a North American mountain town.

Ridership numbers for WE-cycle, which recently completed its fifth season, have continually grown year over year, said founder and director Mirte Mallory.

In the past two years, fare-free pass options available through the city of Aspen’s “drive less” program have aided the organization. Going into the 2017 season, midvalley residents could also take advantage of a fare-free pass thanks to a climate action grant provided by Eagle County. Rides topped 43,000 through November between the Aspen and midvalley systems.

Next summer, no-fare WE-cycle rides will be available to all, at least in Aspen but likely also in the midvalley, pending funding requests that are under consideration. The rides will be free for only the first 30 minutes. After that, per-minute charges will kick in such that someone who takes a WE-cycle bike for two hours would pay roughly double what it costs to rent a bike from a local shop, according to Mallory.

That helps to draw the distinction between WE-cycle, which is intended to be a transit service, and recreational bike rentals. WE-cycle excels at providing one-way, on-demand trips throughout its network and is intended to complement other transit and mobility services such as Roaring Fork Transportation Authority busses and the city-sponsored, on-demand Downtowner ride service. WE-cycle rides are highest at stations situated next to bus stops, Mallory noted, and 87 percent of its rides come from local season pass holders.

Those other transit services have established the fare-free expectation, at least upvalley, where RFTA trips are provided at no cost to the rider. Mallory said it’s important for WE-cycle to be on par with other transit services in terms of rider expectations. As local governments have increased funding for busses and the Downtowner, she said it has also become more difficult to attract private fundraising, which historically has provided a large portion of WE-cycle revenues. When the system launched in 2012, 65 percent of start-up capital costs came from private-sector partners, she noted.

While Mallory said she hopes that WE-cycle’s business model will always include an element of private-sponsor support, she noted that a structural inequity involving bike sharing is alone among public transit services requiring revenue.

Between RFTA, WE-cycle, the Downtowner and the city’s Car2Go program, alternative transportation options moved 1.5 million riders in 2016.

“We have a transit-oriented demographic that is using these services,” Mallory said.

WE-cycle has been successful in securing larger operating grants from public-sector partners. RFTA and the Elected Officials Transportation Committee both recently agreed to multi-year, $100,000 annual commitments.

WE-cycle was also pursuing a grant that would allow its midvalley stations to remain operational all winter. Aspen stations were demobilized or removed for the winter season in early November. Mallory noted that Chicago and Toronto’s bike sharing networks run through the winter, and WE-cycle is exploring what that would look like in Aspen.

When WE-cycle launched in Aspen, it was one of a handful of bike-sharing systems in the county. There are now over 120. Park City has joined WE-cycle in offering the service in a mountain town and the Eagle River Valley is also interested in such a system.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins, during the Nov. 7 council work session in which the board approved the funding, said she is committed to ensuring WE-cycle remains a stable and consistent component of local transit options. On a recent trip to Sweden, she received a pass for a city bike-share network upon checking into her hotel. It will be a great day in Aspen when that is available here, she said.

“I see WE-cycle as opening the door to” possibly expanding the mobility that has been established in the past few years, she said.

curtis@aspendailynews.com