HARLINGEN — Just 10 days before unveiling a Valley-wide bike-share program, officials yesterday announced a deal with Lime bicycles to provide free bikes to any city is now off.
And the alternative put forth could cost as much as $1.5 million.
“The most straightforward answer of why we’re doing that is the industry rapidly changed on us,” Ron Garza, executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, told his board yesterday.
“We very strategically and progressively planned for a dockless bicycle function for about the last six to nine months,” he added. “During that time we felt we were ready, and were moving forward with it, and the industry just changed right in front of us. Not only are they moving to scooters, they actually are evolving into small, electric-type vehicles that are going to be designed for short-term, like under 10-mile, trips.”
The evolution of free versus an estimated $1.5 million to adopt the B-Cycle bike-share program running in McAllen as an alternative no doubt came as a shock to Valley mayors and other officials.
Many of them had been bullish about adding a healthy transportation mode in their cities — as long as it was free.
Harlingen, for example, did not renew a $17,000-a-year contract with the Zagster bike-share company after two years because officials anticipated the Lime bikes would replace them. The city used grant funds to pay for the Zagster bikes, which were removed along with their racks from McKelvey Park at the end of August.
Brownsville also did not renew its Zagster bike-share contract in anticipation of the Lime bikes.
J. Joel Garza Jr., director of the Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization, said before yesterday’s meeting his office had received only a couple of complaints about the removal of the Zagster bikes.
“I think probably because there were news media reports indicating there would be a replacement program coming,” he said.
Mayor Chris Boswell, a member of the LRGVDC board who was present at the meeting here yesterday, said he was unsure which direction the city would go now that Lime is out of the biking picture.
“I feel like we’re probably going to be in a lot more discussion about it and we’re going to need to understand more about what’s being recommended since everything has significantly changed,” he said after the meeting.
Ron Garza said the rapid evolution of the bike-share concept has quickly shifted gears from pedaled bicycles to motorized scooters and electric bicycles, the popularity of which are exploding in big cities and those with college campuses.
“We want to make sure that if we do consider scooters, we do this the right way for the future,” he said.
McAllen has invested heavily in its B-Cycle bike-share program, which is a docked system where bikes need to be brought back to the proper rack after being used. The city started B-Cycle three years ago.
B-Cycle requires a city to purchase the bikes, and also requires funding for maintenance. The Lime system would not have cost cities anything and would also have paid for maintenance of the bikes.
Ron Garza said the B-Cycle program is being considered Valley-wide, and that McAllen has offered to share how its system operates and tracks bikes, but it will be keeping its own bikes.
He said that offer could cut the $1.5 million cost estimate by a third, and the LRGVDC was pursuing a pair of grants in Hidalgo County that would lower that cost even further.
It was unclear yesterday, however, if those grants would apply outside Hidalgo County, which would mean Cameron County cities would have to pursue their own grant funding to pay for a B-Cycle program.
Boswell has been a strong proponent of healthier lifestyles through his Mayor’s Wellness Council and Healthy Harlingen initiatives. He sees bike-riding as a positive way to fight the Valley’s high levels of diabetes and obesity.
Electric, motorized scooters and bikes don’t really meet the standards for a healthier lifestyle.
“It really doesn’t fit with hike-and-bike trails and sidewalks, where that has been a much more of an emphasis through TxDOT and for their funding, like the $4.3 million we’re doing for the sidewalks right now to promote pedestrian traffic,” Boswell said. “I think bikes lanes have been instituted in Brownsville, for example, and we have looked at establishing those in Harlingen.
“But those are for traditional bicycles, and not for a motorized type of bicycle or vehicle,” he added.