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Bicycle rental system generates interest after rocky 'soft launch' in Madison

Bicycle rental system generates interest after rocky 'soft launch' in Madison

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John Drake easily glides the shiny red bike into an open slot at a kiosk near the City-County Building after spending his lunch hour biking around the UW-Madison campus.

His cycling jaunts to places like Picnic Point, which he makes a couple times a week if the weather permits, are thanks to B-cycle — the new bike sharing program.

"I'm kind of exploring the city with it," said Drake, who works Downtown but is unfamiliar with the UW-Madison campus. "I like it and I get a little exercise over lunch."

The program officially launches Thursday, but bikes at a handful of kiosks around Downtown have been operable since May.

B-cycle, an arm of Trek Bicycle Corp., has installed 24 stations with 230 bikes around Downtown and the UW-Madison campus since the program debuted this spring. By fall the company is expected to install 10 more stations outside of the Isthmus for a total of 350 bikes.

The bikes are stored in specially designed racks around the city and can be accessed with a credit card. Riders can purchase daily, weekly or yearly passes and all cyclists are charged if they exceed the half-hour limit in a single ride.

Since its "soft launch" in May, people have taken more than 3,500 trips on B-cycles and purchased about 1,600 memberships, said Eric Bjorling, B-cycle spokesman. Of those memberships, 103 were for year-long subscriptions, he said.

"Pre-launch it's really good," Bjorling said. "That's on par with pre-launch numbers in Denver," where B-cycle has a similar bike-share program. Madison is the ninth city where Trek has established a B-cycle program.

Rocky road

Introducing B-cycle to Madison hasn't been without its bumps.

When the initial kiosks first were installed in May, problems with the software made it hard to check the bikes out, and only a couple stations were functioning fully.

"We've worked through those issues," Bjorling said.

In addition, Madison's new mayor raised questions about the city's deal with B-cycle. Since then, Mayor Paul Soglin reached a modified deal with Trek in April that reduced the city's cost to $1 annually rather than the original $100,000. In return, the city extended its contract with Trek from three to five years.

Now that those issues are resolved, Bjorling said the key is to get people to realize that the bikes can be used for everything from running errands around Capitol Square to sight-seeing on campus and Downtown to commuting from outside the Isthmus to Downtown.

This summer B-cycle teams have been at the Dane County Farmers' Market and Concerts on the Square marketing the bikes and handing out free half-hour B-cycle rides.

Laura Reissmann and Daniel Berry, both of Madison, were checking out the B-cycle rates at the Wisconsin Avenue station last week. The two said they were interested in renting B-cycles when up to eight people in their family come to visit.

"I think it's a fantastic idea," Berry said. Reissmann said she found the prices "pretty reasonable."

Increasing bike ridership?

Daniel Kragthorpe, assistant manger at Williamson Bicycle Works on East Washington Avenue, said the B-cycle program has increased the company's bike rentals.

"It is a great program for simply getting from point to point in town," Kragthorpe said of B-cycle. But because riders are charged for every extra half hour they ride, it gets expensive to ride the same bike all day, he said.

Ben Sherer, sales manager at Machinery Row Bicycles on Williamson Street, said bike rentals there are down slightly so far this year compared to last, but he attributes that to the weather, not B-cycle, which has a kiosk close to the store.

Sherer predicts B-cycle ultimately will help business.

People who use B-cycles on a regular basis are going to see that owning a bike is a more economical choice, he said.

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The Madison B-cycle bike-sharing program closed its first season Dec. 15 after logging 18,501 trips by 6,437 users in 200 days. The program — bicycles from Trek Bicycle Corp. are offered for rent at 27 corrals around the city — signed up 472 yearlong, subscription-type memberships. 

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What: Madison B-cycle launch

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• An annual pass for unlimited rides under 30 minutes costs $65, or $45 for students. Weekly passes with unlimited rides under 30 minutes are …

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B-cycle bikes can be found in racks around the city, and can be taken for a ride by paying with a credit card. Users can purchase daily, weekl…

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