June 19 2013 12:00 AM

Lansing, as the first city in Michigan, will be a proving ground for affordable bike-sharing programs

Photo courtesy of A2B

Until now, bicycle-sharing programs in the United States have been more common in larger cities with a progressive eye toward transportation. Think Denver, Washington and Minneapolis.

Come early August, Lansing is expected to join about 20 other U.S. cities — and become the first in Michigan — to pilot a bike-sharing program.

It’s like Zip Car for bikes: Users show up to one of five or six self-serve racks (the number is still being determined), rent a bike for as much time as they need and return it to any other rack in the city. The three-month pilot would include 20 bikes on East Michigan Avenue to downtown and up to Old Town. Users will be able to check bicycle availability on a computer or smart phone. The goal is to expand it throughout the city in the coming years.

Capital Community Bike Share has been two years in the making as organizers sought a program that was more affordable than those typically seen in larger cities. They say they have found a solution in contracting with Ann Arbor-based startup A2B. 

“We have a signed contract and we are very excited,” said Lynne Martinez, the program development manager.

Organizers are still trying to raise the $42,000 needed to launch the three-month pilot, which they hope to launch Aug. 4. They are about $20,000 to $25,000 short of the target. A fundraiser is scheduled for June 26 in Old Town, where guests can become members for $40 during the pilot program. If it moves on to Phase 1 in 2014, memberships are expected to cost $60.

There would be 20 bikes available as part of the pilot. Non-members would pay an upfront $5 fee to use the bike, while the first 30 minutes are free. Prices increase for each 30-minute increment after that, $1 for 30 to 60 minutes and $3 for 60 to 90 minutes. Martinez said it’d be $5 for each additional half hour after 90 minutes. For example, it’d be $8 for non-members to rent a bike for 60 to 90 minutes. Organizers have not decided on a 24-hour pass price. Members only pay for the time of using a bike after the first 30 minutes.

Martinez said as part of the contract between Capital Community Bike Share — a registered nonprofit — and A2B, the city will be in charge of installation, repair and maintenance. She said A2B will monitor the system and “take care of all of the administration.” The goal is to have the program be sustained through user fees, memberships, contributions from the private sector and federal grants.

“The pilot is really about testing out the equipment, seeing the community’s reaction and support of it,” said Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, who Martinez said came up with the idea and who has been involved with the planning over the past two years.

The pilot is two-fold in a way, since Lansing decided to go with a company that’s not as large or “tried and true” as those in bigger cities, Schertzing said. It’s also less expensive because the technology is embedded onto the bikes rather than more permanent kiosks. Under A2B’s model, bike stations can be moved if users aren’t responding to a particular location. This “smart bike, dumb rack” system includes a solar panel on the bike to power the computer console and a basic rack outfitted with a lock.

With lower capital costs, Schertzing said Lansing’s could be a model for other small to mid-sized cities.

After speaking with a venture capitalist friend, “When he thought about it, he said, ‘This is really a type of technology that any community that wanted bike share could afford to do,’” Schertzing said. “That’s what really attracted us to it. We really struggled with how to get a kiosk system up and going.”

John Lindenmayer, advocacy and policy director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists, said Lansing will beat Ann Arbor — who went with a larger company — in getting a bike share online. Ann Arbor’s is expected to launch next year. He’s “optimistic” it’ll work out here.

“A lot of communities our size struggle with bike sharing. It’s almost easier to do at a bigger city level, with a more critical mass of people and funding opportunities,” he said. “I think if everything goes well (here), it’s going to be really exciting for communities across the state and country.”

Capital Community Bike Share fundraiser
Wednesday, June 26
5-7 p.m.
Clark Hill Law Firm
212 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing
For information on memberships, contact Lynne Martinez at mcg@acd.net.