Bike share program may be on its way to Harlingen

HARLINGEN — Ladies and gentlemen, abandon your engines.

A proposal for a bike-share program in the city has been approved by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and now awaits an up-or-down vote from the City Commission.

The plan is to lease 20 commuter bicycles in partnership with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and place bike racks at two locations — the Regional Academic Health Center on campus and McKelvey Park.

Bike-sharing is a rapidly growing innovation in urban transportation. It allows people who have an account to use utility bikes to get from Point A to Point B. The bikes are short-term rentals, and time with a bike can range from one hour to several hours before the bikes have to be checked in at an official rack station.

Since a credit card is required to set up an account, if a bike user goes over the allotted time, he or she gets dinged on the card. If the bike goes missing, it could be up to an $850 charge, which has proved a pretty good deterrent to theft or loss.

The cost for the UTRGV-Harlingen bike-share partnership is going to be, if the commission approves, about $17,000 annually. The first year already is covered by a grant from the UT Health Science Center in Houston.

Most companies that lease bikes insist on a two-year deal, however. The city may have to come up with $17,000 or so for the second year if it isn’t covered by a funding grant.

“Based on the population of Harlingen (about 65,000), if only 1 percent of the people used this, 667 people, we’re looking at $20 yearly,” said J. Joel Garza Jr., director of the Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“That’s about $13,000 in revenue that the city would get back,” Garza added.

The $20 annual fee would entitle anybody in the bike-share program to use bikes for up to four hours a day, he said.

“That’s very, very affordable for a student, or anybody for that matter,” Garza said.

Bike-share programs are popular in many U.S. states, and Texas isn’t an exception. Bike-share programs are in place in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth and El Paso.

In McAllen, the bike-share program has been operating since October, said Mari o Delgado, transit director for Metro McAllen.

“We’ve been very happy with the response,” he said. “There have been about 12,500 memberships sold through the end of February.”

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