City’s bike-share event greeted by half-empty rack — and that’s a good thing

HARLINGEN — The real question Friday morning prior to the ribbon-cutting for the new bike-share system was this: Where are all the bikes?

“When we got here this morning, there were only four bikes,” said City Manager Dan Serna. “Where are the bikes? Within minutes we had six out.”

The 10 Zagster commuter bikes at the McKelvey Park station are already getting a workout, and the fact they were already gone by 9 a.m. was invigorating for those who helped jumpstart the program.

Another four bikes are available at a station at the Regional Academic Health Center on the campus of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Other bikes in the program are ready to ride in Brownsville and Edinburg.

The bike-share program allows a user to download an app for a mobile phone, create an account and register a credit card. Then when a user wants to unlock a bike, he or she enters the code and receives a text with a number that unlocks the bike.

With the $35 annual pass, the first hour the bike is out is always free, and after that time’s up, the charge is $2 per hour up to a maximum of $10.

With a monthly pass, which costs $15, the first hour is free with a maximum charge of $10 per ride over that time limit.

For the hourly pass, the charge is $2 per hour up to $30.

The cost to Harlingen is $17,100 per year for a two-year lease. The city obtained a UT School of Public Health grant to fund both years at the McKelvey Park bicycle station. The UTRGV is funding the RAHC bicycle station.

“For our communities, we must see these bikes as more than just 80 bikes between Harlingen and Brownsville,” said Ramiro Gonzalez, assistant director of the Brownsville Planning Department. “We must see these bikes as planting a flag in a fight against health indicators we are all aware of.”

“It is collaboration between Brownsville and Harlingen, along with seven other partner cities in the region,” Gonzalez added. “It lays out a vision for 170 miles of off-road trails, 60 miles of paddling trails that end right here in Harlingen and start in South Bay, and over 100 miles that make up the beginning or the terminus of U.S. Bike Route 55, depending on how you see it.”

Cody Baczewski, GIS specialist and transportation planner with the Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the bikes are proving popular.

Even as city and regional officials delivered their speeches yesterday morning, two women quietly slipped in behind the podium to drop off two of the bicycles they had been out riding.

“We’re almost up to 700 something rides for the entire system,” Baczewski said. “We can’t, unfortunately, break it down by station yet, so I don’t really know what our specific usage numbers are for this one, but I know it’s been over 700 rides in the last three weeks (at) all the stations in the Valley including the ones in Edinburg and Brownsville.”

So far, the system has managed to hold onto all but one of the bikes.

“We think we had one stolen, we’re trying to figure that out right now,” Baczewski said. “The lockbox was not working properly … we’re looking for that one, and we have insurance, so it’ll be replaced pretty quickly.”

Before the meeting, City Commissioner Victor Leal took one of the bikes out for a spin down the trail at McKelvey Park.

“I cruised down a little ways, they’re a lot of fun, they ride good,” Leal told the crowd.

“This is a collaboration of lots of organizations coming together,” Leal added. “This is a good example of what happens when you take people, put them together with a common goal and a common cause, and see what can result from this.”