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After Nine Months, B-Cycle Is Catching On In Charlotte

Charlotte’s bike sharing program, B-Cycle, has been up and running for nine months now. You’ve probably noticed the bike racks in and near Uptown, marked with the circular red, white, and blue “B” logo. WFAE’s Duncan McFadyen reports the program is taking off.

The B-Cycle headquarters, or HUB, as it’s called, is tucked away in a storefront on Trade Street under Time Warner Cable Arena. There, a handful of employees take calls from riders and maintain the system’s fleet of 240 bikes.

The B-Cycles are built to take a pounding. They weigh in at 42.5 pounds with heavy-duty aluminum parts, and their tire tubes seal themselves off with a special goo if they’re punctured.

“This doesn’t look like anybody else’s bike,” says executive director Dianna Ward. “Everything on this bike was meant to be outdoors. I couldn’t keep my bike outdoors if I wanted to keep it in working condition.”

Charlotte has 20 stations, stretching from the 4th Ward Uptown to Freedom Park.  Ward says the bikes are also equipped with a GPS device, so they’re able to monitor how people use the system.

“We have made a point to get to know our riders,” she says. “We understand which  neighborhoods are heavy commuter neighborhoods, and we make sure that those are always stocked…we have one rider in South End that checks out the same bike from the same dock every time.”

One of the hot spots is 4th and College Uptown, where Danny van der Hoeven checks his bike in on the way home from work at Bank of America. His commute is part bus, part bike, and part car. He says B-Cycle has helped him to trim his driving down to a minimum.

“I use mine about a mile a day to get to the park and ride and back,” he says.

He’s logged close to 120 miles so far on B-Cycles. Van der Hoeven bought an annual membership for $65, which includes unlimited half-hour rides. The only other option is an $8 day pass. Either way, if a rider keeps a bike checked out for more than 30 minutes at a time, there’s a $4 charge for each additional half hour.

“The $65 a year is very reasonable,” he says, “the $8 a day? I don’t understand why anyone would pay $8 a day.”

Neither does LaKesha Agnew, who works as a barber Uptown. She was carrying a few bags back from her lunch break one day, and a B-Cycle, with its large basket attached to the front handlebars, caught her eye.

“It would’ve been convenient at the time,” she says, “but I wasn’t going to pay $8 for two blocks on over.”

The daily price makes Charlotte the most expensive B-cycle system in the country, based on the cost of an uninterrupted 1-hour ride. Most of B-Cycle's other 14 cities charge between $5 and $7 for a day pass that includes the first hour or half hour of each ride. If you don’t check the bike back in, it’s another $1-$2 for the next half hour.

Several of the other cities also offer multi-day or monthly options, but in Charlotte, it’s either one day or 365.

The price doesn’t seem to be deterring too many people, though. So far, Charlotte B-Cycle has sold more than 8,500 day passes, and executive director Dianna Ward says nearly 400 people have signed up for annual memberships.  In total, B-Cyclers have taken close to 22,000 trips since August. Those numbers are in line with the first year of Madison, Wisconsin’s program – that’s a much more bike friendly city that launched with a bigger network.