More details on Denver's bike-sharing program

Last week, Steve Sanders of the Office of Economic Development sent an e-mail informing us that a blog we did on Denver's future bike sharing program contained a factual inaccuracy. Apparently, when the system launches next spring, the membership fee will not be $50 per month but, um, well, $50 per year.

Sanders surmised that "the reporter must have been watching Channel 8 and not been paying close attention" to his May 5 presentation before City Council. Actually, the reporter was watching online from a coffee shop after hearing about the meeting five minutes beforehand while working on another story. Oh, blogging!

So, apologies, we regret the error, etc, etc. But, in our defense, the planned fee structure for the bikes is pretty friggin' complicated. So, in the making of amends, let us present a totally confirmed re-explanation on how this whole bike sharing thing will work.

As stated in the previous blog, the city's goal is start off the program next spring with 600 bikes locked up at forty automated stations around the city. The stations will be strategically located throughout downtown and in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Five Points and the Highlands with an emphasis on connecting places where people work, shop and live. Bikes can be checked out with a credit card.

There are four types of memberships: one-day ($3), five-day ($10), one-month ($30), full year ($50). This entitles riders to the first thirty minutes of bike use free of charge. After that initial period ends, a system of graduated fees kick in, to encourage riders to keep bikes in circulation by returning them to stations.

1st half hour: free 2nd half hour: $1.00 3rd half hour: $2.00 4th and every half hour thereafter: $3.00

So if you sign up for a one-day membership and ride a single bike for two hours, then $9 would be charged to your credit card. But keeping the same bike for the entire day will cost a set fee of $50. If the bike is not returned after 24 hours, the user will be notified that they have another 24 hours to return the bike or else a $750 fee will be applied to their credit card.

But the hefty fees are only if you keep the same bike checked out. Since the bikes are intended for short rides in between stations, you could potentially be riding around all day on trips thirty minutes or less and never pay a graduated fee.

For example, if my parents were visiting and we wanted to ride downtown from the Highlands, we could each check out a bike on a daily membership for $3. After a twenty-minute ride to LoDo, we check our rides into a station, go get lunch, buy some useless tourist crap on 16th Street Mall, and find another bike station near the Market Street Station. We grab some bikes and ride to, say, the Molly Brown House, check in our two-wheelers at a station and look at old antique crap for an hour. After that, we can pick up some fresh bikes and ride back to the home station.

Total cost at the end of the day for each bike: $3. That's a pretty affordable proposition over getting bikes all day from a rental shop or driving around and paying for parking.

At the city council meeting, Sanders acknowledged that officials anticipate more bikes being checked out at some stations, while others will see more bikes being checked in. (Apparently, cities with similar programs have found that stations at the tops of hills see fewer returns than those at low points.) This could create problems of reliability and convenience that might turn people off from the whole idea of bike sharing. Sanders says they are exploring ways to address this by offering discounts if people make returns at stations where bikes are needed. If that doesn't work, they'll just pay to truck bikes back to certain stations.

In the end, the success of the program will depend on how the city government as a whole performs in the many initiatives to make Denver friendlier for spokes and wheels.

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