City leaders want to create a new transit culture downtown that uses two wheels and some leg power.
The Raleigh City Council on Tuesday voted 7-1 to adopt a bike rental program downtown and at five university campuses. Supporters say it will improve mobility, encourage healthy lifestyles and make Raleigh more appealing to tourists and professionals who desire an urban lifestyle.
“This is going to have a great impact on our city,” said Councilman Bonner Gaylord.
The program will place 300 bicycles for rent at 30 outdoor stations around Raleigh, including N.C. State and Shaw universities, among other locations. Consultants say it will take two years to launch the program, but the city may be able to do it sooner, said Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager.
Users will be able to ride the bikes free as long as they rent and return them to any of the stations within 30 minutes.
The city plans to charge $4 for each additional half-hour, $8 for 24 hours or a flat $80 fee for unlimited use for 12 months. The city plans to offer reduced rates to students: $2 for each additional half-hour and $50 for a 12-month pass.
Tuesday’s vote comes a year after bike share supporters first lobbied for the program to no avail. City Council members last summer excluded the program from this year’s budget, which ends June 30, because of financial concerns.
After using a $1.6 million federal grant, the city is left with a one-time payment of about $425,000 to launch the program. City staff estimate annual operating costs at about $653,000 and expect to collect $215,000 in annual fees – leaving a $438,000 funding gap.
The council approved the bike share proposal this year mostly because the private sector is offering to pay for some of the annual operating costs with sponsorships. Local companies pledged to buy a total of about $220,000 in sponsorships if Raleigh adopted the program, Gaylord said.
“This is a way to attract talent and make a more attractive city,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin told Gaylord. “I feel much better about this having been in contact with some of the people you’ve talked to.”
Gaylord has declined to offer company names or their desired contracts, but representatives from Citrix and Rex Healthcare expressed interest to the council last month. The Wake County Board of Commissioners may also chip in money, said Commissioner Sig Hutchinson, the board’s vice chair.
Hutchinson is a vocal proponent of the program. He organized support and wrote and read a poem about the benefits of bike sharing at a council meeting.
Nonetheless, the remaining $220,000-or-so in projected annual operating costs was still too steep to gain Councilwoman Kay Crowder’s support.
Crowder said the city should focus its resources on transportation infrastructure such as sidewalks, bus stops and crosswalks that would be used by more people. Only 8 percent of the city’s population lives within the program’s footprint, she said.
Crowder has said the city shouldn’t be “in the bike business,” and she doubled down to emphasize her stance again during a council work session prior to its regular meeting.
“If it was really an excellent business, the private sector would have picked up and run with it already,” she said.
The council will re-evaluate the program after three years.