B-Cycle to bring bike rentals to Chicago

By Meghan Keyes

Paris is known as the “City of Light,” home of the Eiffel Tower and a pioneer of bike sharing. Bike sharing is not simply lending your bicycle to a friend in need—both visitors and residents pay a fee to rent out a bike from a company for any amount of time, whether it’s an hour or a day.

B-Cycle is one of the programs that provides bikes for various cities. The company comprises three partners—Trek Bicycle Corporation, health insurance providers Humana and Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Chicago’s B-Cycle program is run by Bike and Roll, a bike tour company that has been in Chicago for approximately 17 years. B-Cycle partnered with them to bring bike sharing to Chicago in July, following Denver and preceding Des Moines, Iowa, whose program launched on Sept. 8. Overall, Denver, Chicago, Des Moines, Washington, D.C., Boston and Minneapolis are the only U.S. cities to have a bike sharing program.

“We have the support of a lot of the city, the mayor, the Park District and other city organizations,” said Jonathan Schwartz, membership director of Chicago B-Cycle.

“People are excited about it and are hoping the system expands, which is our hope and intention.”

To rent a bicycle, a customer must sign up for a membership online or rent temporarily at the kiosk. After payment, the customer can choose any bike and is free to ride anywhere.

The bike can be returned to any station. There are currently six stations located in the downtown and lakefront areas. The stations are as far north as the John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Ave., and as far south as McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive.

“We’d be happy to put stations anywhere,” Schwartz said. “It’s a matter of money and funding … Obviously we would want to have them near major transportation lines: bus routes, train routes and Metra stops.”

Schwartz was unsure of where the program would go next because of money.

The price for temporary rides is $10 per hour or $40 a day. A 30-day membership is $35 for adults and $25 for students and seniors. There are also 60-day and 90-day memberships. A member’s first hour is free and costs $2.50 per extra half hour.

Many organizations within Chicago have worked with B-Cycle in their first year, including the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Active

Transportation Alliance.

“We’ve seen bike sharing become really successful in other cities in the world,” said Adolfo Hernandez, director of Advocacy at Active Transportation Alliance. “They’ve increased the amount of bicycling and bike trips almost overnight just by implementing the bike sharing program.”

According to the website, the mission of the Alliance is to make bicycling, walking and public transit a safe and convenient travel option to reduce harmful and sedentary modes of transportation.

“We’re really excited about it, and it has the potential to make a huge impact,” Hernandez said.

B-Cycle did not receive any funding from the city or state, which, according to Schwartz, remains one of the program’s challenges. In all other U.S. cities, it has received funding or grants or are a not-for-profit. The I-Go car sharing program in Chicago, a separate but similar company, is run through the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

“[I-Go] was a case where the municipality and government has access to funding for these programs, which they then funnel to a not-for-profit,” said Brian Steele, representative of CDOT. “There are numerous challenges to launching a program like this: financial, logistical … and liability.”

Schwartz said there have been no problems with theft, something the Paris program has seen much of.

“It’s parallel to what goes on in the technology field,” Steele said. “Somebody introduces a new piece of technology, and a year later there’s something ten times better than that. To a certain extent, we’ve seen a lot of changes in bike sharing just in the couple years it’s been around, for instance with

wireless technology.”

The season ends Oct. 30 and will re-open April 1. Until then, both CDOT and the Alliance will continue to monitor

B-Cycle’s progress.

“It would be smart to just figure out what’s working really well with what we’re doing and how can we apply it as we think about expanding it around the city,”

Hernandez said.