The city of Raleigh could launch a bike-sharing program by the spring of 2017, allowing people to rent bicycles from stations scattered across the city. The Raleigh City Council discussed the possibility on Tuesday but hasn’t made any decisions.
A proposed first phase would span several major destinations, including the N.C. Museum of Art, N.C. State University, downtown and Chavis Park. A staff proposal calls for installing 30 stations, including 25 around the city and five at N.C. State University, that would host 300 bicycles.
The equipment would be owned by the city and operated by a contractor. Users would pay an $8 base fee for a 24-hour period, or $80 for an annual pass; students at Raleigh colleges and universities could pay $50 per semester. After paying the base fees, people could use the bikes for 30 minutes for free, plus $4 per half-hour after that, or $2 per half-hour for students.
The pricing model is meant to encourage short trips for city residents, or longer rentals by visitors; the rates could be modified. The city expects 600 annual memberships at launch.
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The city could fund installation of the first 30 stations with a $2 million federal grant, which it already has secured, and an additional $500,000 of city funding for planning and installation, according to a staff proposal.
The proposal would cost $653,000 per year to operate, staff estimated; city staff expect the proposed program would make about $215,000 per year in rental costs, leaving a yearly budget gap of $438,000.
The city could fill that gap in part by selling advertising with the bike program, according to staff. To do that, the city might need to amend its advertising rules to allow advertising at the bike stations, which would stand on public property.
“You can literally sell almost anything from a bike-share system (for sponsorships),” said Jennifer Baldwin, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Raleigh.
Design could begin this year, with construction underway by the end of 2016 and the system ready for use in 2017.
Council members talked Tuesday about setting aside early funding for the program but didn’t make a decision.
“This is obviously very much in tune with our comprehensive plan’s sustainability vision,” said Councilman Russ Stephenson, citing potential health benefits and the presence of similar programs in Raleigh’s “peer cities.”
Councilman Bonner Gaylord asked whether the city shouldn’t talk more broadly about the idea of sponsorships on city property. Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin asked whether the city might be able to bring in a consultant to look for sponsorships.
Councilman Wayne Maiorano called the program “exciting” but asked whether the city might be able to “ease into” the program with a smaller deployment.
“Let’s not underestimate the cost,” Maiorano said. “This is a significant investment in a budget cycle where we’ve got some really important, hard decisions to make.”
Eric Lamb, transportation planning manager, said the city wouldn’t have to make a full decision immediately. The city could go after sponsorships for a year, committing only limited funds for now, he said.
However, staff said that the city shouldn’t shrink the proposal at hand by too much. The program needs a certain “density” of stations, ensuring people can rent and return in enough places to make their rentals worthwhile, according to Lamb.
The end result could be a connected Trianglewide system, assuming other municipalities adopt similar programs, Lamb said. Further discussion could come as the city crafts its new budget.