Bike rental programs, in which residents or tourists can pay to use a bicycle for a limited period of time, have been popular across the globe for some time, especially in Europe, and have swept across the US quickly in the past decade. Austin, Portland, Seattle, and other forward-leaning cities have established bike sharing and/or rental programs in the past decade, allowing able-bodied adults the opportunity to grab a quick ride through the urban landscape, for a small fee, or in some cases, for free. Now, New Orleans will join these cities, around this time next year. The City Council has approved a deal with a New York-based firm to bring large-scale bike sharing to the streets of New Orleans.
Bike sharing services vary in terms of price, functionality, and availability, but in general, they operate by providing well-maintained bikes for rent at stations located throughout the city. Riders pay a fee and later return the bicycle to another station throughout the city. The programs are useful for promoting tourist traffic to out-of-the-way spots and allowing locals a new option for commuting or running errands. Talks of bike-sharing in New Orleans have been circulating for over five years, and a demonstration of bike rentals in 2013 preceding the Super Bowl was successful. The deal, which has been in the works since July, sets the groundwork for an extensive bike-sharing program in New Orleans with at least 700 bicycles at 70 stations. And if all goes as planned, the taxpayers won’t be paying for it.
New York’s Social Bicycles was one of seven bike-sharing firms that sought a contract with the city, but their success in finding sponsorship for similar programs enticed the Council, who were focused on keeping the city’s expenditures low. The firm and its partner, Motivate, will find funding from sponsors for the venture, which is likely to run upwards of $2.5 million. The company is also expected to reinvest some of its eventual profits in bike infrastructure programs in the city. Social Bicycles’ monthly plan will allow residents to ride for up to an hour a day for only $15 a month, while hourly rentals will run you $8. A $20-a-year plan for low-income residents is in the works as well. The bikes are expected to be in place and operational by October of next year. The first phase will cover the CBD, French Quarter, Marigny, Garden District, and B.W. Cooper neighborhoods, while later phases will expand to St. Claude, Gentilly, and other parts of the city. The first phase will likely be completed in mid-2017.