Aug. 27 2014 12:00 AM

Soft relaunch of bike share program still presents problems, challenges


The neon lime green bikes locked to racks beneath the Capital Community Bike Share sign at the baseball stadium last week were anything but shareable.

The brand commuters had solar panels affixed to the handlebars, but darkened display screens.

There were no instructions or labeling.

How do you get to share these bikes?

Whom do you call?

“Everyone is frustrated, most of all those who had planned to use the bike share eventually,” said Julie Powers, who purchased a pilot membership in fall 2013. “Not to throw anyone under the bike wheel literally”

The Capital Community Bike Share was launched last year with much fanfare and media coverage. It was Martinez´s idea that got launched with the help of Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing. But the wheels stopped spinning, grinding to a halt due to mechanical and technological failures. Version 2.0 of the rollout is more of a soft launch with the green machines popping up at stations along Michigan Avenue the last few weeks.

Since last week the bikes were moved to Sparrow Hospital. There were three Tuesday. Only one of the screens worked, lighting up to display a $2 per 30-minute ride session. The other had problems connecting to the server.

Program consultant Lynne Martinez said, “We’re just starting with making sure all the technology and mechanicals are working … . The bikes are available for testing by walk-ups now. You can take a test ride by using a credit card.”

So I took her up on it and decided to test the bikes.

The computers on the first two bikes never connected to the server.

The third bike had a functioning screen, displaying a cost of $2 for every 30 minutes of ride time. I swiped my card and plugged in my email.

Then I was prompted to unlock the bike.

That took five tries of yanking, tugging and resetting the screen.

I was about to give up when, without really knowing what I did right, the bike unlocked and I got to ride it. (The bikes are not really meant for those 5 feet tall or shorter).

“More bikes will be available starting by Wednesday or Thursday,” said Martinez, a former state representative. “As soon as they start arriving we will be sending emails to members, supporters and post on our Facebook page.”

“We will put the instructions on the bikes after they’re in production,” she said. “This is the beta test.”

She said the delay of the rollout was two-fold – the mechanical locks weren’t working and some of the technology of the display console wasn’t working.

The bikes, designed by the Ann Arbor-based startup A2B Bikeshare, uses a touchscreen console on the bike itself.

Capital Community BikeShare paid $5,000 toward the costs of the pilot under a contract that was negotiated in 2013, according to Martinez. She said until 20 functioning bikes are delivered, no new contracts will be signed.

Lansing may have been too small a fish in a big pond, Martinez said.

She said “production people focus on the big projects,” and Lansing wasn’t a big project.

It was a small project with big problems and that “slowed things down.”

Martinez said the membership for the pilot was $40.

“Given the shortened season this year, we may change that. We expect that annual membership for our first full season will cost about $60.”

At this rate, Powers said, “my membership is going to last me until 2015, which isn’t bad.”

John Lindenmayer, advocacy and policy director, League of Michigan Bicyclists, said he purchased a pilot membership but hasn’t had an opportunity to ride the bikes yet.

“We are excited that Lansing is getting their pilot program off finally,” he said.

“It would be our hope that it takes off and continues to flourish so we can add more stations and more bikes and connect more neighborhoods."