The following article was originally published on 9/25/2020 by Ryan Thornton in the Austin Monitor.
Transportation contributes more to local air pollution than any other economic sector and will soon be the largest source of local greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet. Yet three-quarters of all work commutes in Austin are still made by private car. In one small effort to resist this trajectory, the city has teamed up with Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Bike Share of Austin and rebranded its bike-share system, previously called Austin B-cycle, as MetroBike.
City Council and the Capital Metro board individually approved the new program earlier this summer, initiating a new partnership to integrate the bike-share system into the public transit system to create a synergy of increased ridership across both systems. As of this week, stations and bicycles across the city have been rebranded as MetroBike.
“By being able to coordinate with the city and Cap Metro, we’re able to put stations exactly where they’re needed within the community, and that gives us a much bigger reach,” said Diego Martinez-Moncada, executive director of Bike Share of Austin, the nonprofit in charge of daily operations for MetroBike.
In theory, the expansion and integration with transit will help the city decrease single-occupancy car trips down to about half of all commutes by offering a solution to the problem known as the first and last mile, which refers to the challenge of getting people to a transit stop or to their destination after they get off the bus or train.
“People, especially here in the warm Southwest, will only walk about a quarter-mile,” said Robert Spillar, director of Austin Transportation. “With the bikes, especially e-bikes, that distance expands up to a mile. If you can get on an electric bike and go very quickly and very easily without sweating, theoretically, to transit, that just expands the footprint or coverage of transit.”
MetroBike includes a fleet of over 200 e-bikes on loan, but the new program includes plans to purchase those bikes and ultimately fully electrify the bike-share fleet.
“This also will allow us the ability to have our community be more active and stay more healthy as we age in years,” said Jason JonMichael, assistant director of smart mobility at Austin Transportation. “Electric bikes provide and enable more transportation usage by those that currently can’t use that much pedal bike services today. Austin’s a really hilly place.”
Capital Metro has updated its mobile payment and trip-planning app to include passes and route planning for MetroBike. When purchasing transit tickets, mobile users now have the option to purchase bundled daily and monthly passes for unlimited access to the MetroBike system and either local or commuter transit services.
A bundled local bus and MetroBike day pass is available for $15 while a 31-day pass costs $65, in contrast to $2.50 for a local bus pass and $41.25 for a monthly bus pass. Access to all services, including MetroRail, MetroBike and all bus routes, costs $19.50 per day pass and $120 for 31 days.
From here, MetroBike is set to expand with more bikes and smaller, more flexible stations in areas outside of the limited zone it currently serves. These stations will be part of the bike-share’s future docking system 3.0 that will generally accommodate fewer bikes per dock but will be spaced more frequently throughout neighborhoods. At least in the near term, however, the program will still be dependent on docks to unlock and park the bikes.
“It’s always been a long-term goal of Bike Share of Austin to grow the system, and having a regional transit authority like Cap Metro to come on board as a partner … is ideal and is only going to help our system spread throughout the city,” said David Rockwood, board chair of Bike Share of Austin.
Catherine Crago, head of strategic initiatives for the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, said the integration is “so important” to addressing local affordability issues.
“Affordable housing and transportation are just so closely intertwined,” Crago said. “Our residents earn between $10,000 and $14,000 per year per household, and the American Automobile Association says it costs $10,000 per year to own a car."
To read the article on the Austin Monitor click here.