James Yoder is looking forward to Charlotte looking and feeling a little bit more like Europe, where he used to live.
Yoder owns a coffee shop in Charlotte’s 7th Street Public Market, steps away from one of Charlotte’s 20 new bicycle sharing stations.
The new Charlotte B-cycle program, that launched officially on Wednesday, is the state’s first municipal bike sharing program, similar to systems in Paris and London, and also in US cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington, DC, and Boston.
“The first time I saw a bike-sharing system was in France and I thought it was great,” said Yoder, who lives close enough to the market to walk to work. “This is great for Charlotte. Potentially it could help make Charlotteans healthier, especially if people who are now sedentary start to use the system.”
And that’s exactly the point, said Ellison Clary who heads community relations in Charlotte for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. The state’s largest insurer has put up money to help launch the program as part of a statewide initiative called Get Outside NC.
“North Carolina is the country’s 14th fattest state,” Clary said. “Thirty percent of our adults and 18 percent of our children are obese, so we want people to get outside and exercising. We think this is one way to help people control their weight.”
“We hope that it’s going to touch all kinds of people, not only people who would be outside anyway, but some of those folks who are in that thirty percent to get out and ride a bike,” said Ellison. He also pointed out that BCBS beneficiaries will get a 20 percent discount on using the service.
According to Moira Quinn, a spokeswoman for B-cycle, in other cities people have burned a total of more than 38 million calories and lost more than 11,000 pounds riding B-cycle bikes.
“If there’s a bike alternative, we can keep people from using cars for short trips,” Quinn said. “If I had the opportunity to use something as fast as a car, you don’t have to park it… I can see people using the bike shares in a minute.”
How it works
Signing up for the service will require users to have a credit card that they put into the bike kiosks in order to remove the bicycle. The first half hour of riding is free, then riders will have to pay four dollars per half-hour. People can also register for daily and yearly memberships.
Stations with multiple bikes will be located near light rail stations in Uptown, in parks, and near colleges and universities, with locations at CPCC, Johnson and Wales and UNC-Charlotte. Many of the routes follow the city’s greenways and transit corridors.
“As far as we’re concerned B-cycle is an extension of transit,” said Dianna Ward, the group’s executive director. “Bikes create a wider option when you get off of bus or light rail. You can get on a bike and get a lot further.”
Ward estimates the program will cost between 300-400 thousand dollars a year to operate, but rider fees won’t generate enough revenue to pay for the entire program.
“It’s city supported, but the city’s not a funder,” Ward said, pointing out that for these kinds of urban programs there is little ability to turn a profit. Typically, she said the programs are sponsored by local businesses and governments.
In addition to BCBSNC, other money for the program is coming from Charlotte businesses, such as Carolinas Medical Center and Verizon.
But it’s people who live in and visit those cities who benefit, said Steven Welborn, who was visiting from Virginia over the weekend. He was getting onto the light rail at the 7th Street Station and said he was excited to see the bike racks.
“I come here often, and will probably be back soon. I look forward to trying it out,” Welborn said.
Many others have also tried out the system. B-cycle did a free pilot of the program’s bikes at two sites on the weekend of July 12-15 to see how things flowed, and to get some data on how people would use the system.
“We had a very representative weekend for our first weekend,” said Quinn. “We got information on everyone who signed up that weekend, and they were very diverse: male, female, black, white.
“The majority were casual riders, and that’s who we need to be riding the bikes.”
Reporting assistance provided by Beth Howard in Charlotte.