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Baltimore partnership subsidizes low-income passes for bike share

Baltimore launched its bike share program on Monday. The fleet of 500 bikes will be placed at 50 stations around the city. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is subsidizing passes for the city’s bike share program for low-income residents. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

Downtown Partnership of Baltimore will subsidize memberships in the city’s bike share program for low-income residents starting this spring.

Kirby Fowler, the partnership’s president, said the idea for this program came from a staff member who worked at Boston’s bike share program that had a similar underwritten membership.  The partnership’s board of directors increased its surcharge to members roughly 10 months ago to help fund ways to connect downtown with the entire city, Fowler said, and the financed passes are part of that effort.

“We have a long history of working on transit issues. Most recently we were heavily involved in the launch of the (Charm City) Circulator… and we think we should promote transit in all respects, and we should always encourage people to find non-car options to get around the city,” Fowler said.

The Downtown Partnership Access Pass reduces the cost of a monthly pass to $3 for unlimited one-hour trips. A regular monthly pass for Baltimore Bike Share costs $15 a month and covers unlimited 45 minute rides. Rides that run long cost $2 extra per 30 minutes.

Subsidized passes go to the first 200 eligible residents to sign up. Qualified residents must be enrolled in the Maryland Food Supplemental Program.

“Bike Share is already an important part of Baltimore’s transit infrastructure and, thanks to the generosity of Downtown Partnership and the new Access Pass, it will be more affordable and easily available,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement. “If other organizations follow Downtown Partnership’s lead, we will be able to expand the program to more individuals and also provide how-to-ride classes.”

Fowler said the hope is the partnership’s backing of subsidized passes will encourage other institutions and businesses to join and help expand the program.

Bike share advocates have lobbied since the program’s launch in October for greater private buy-in. Cycling advocates maintain private backers, such as developers who allow stations at their properties, are key to bike sharing’s success in Baltimore.

“While we have the capital to get going we need private and institutional support to get this where we’re going,” Jon Laria, chairman of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Commission, said after the program’s launch event.

In the first month of operation, according to Bewegen Technologies Inc., the firm that received a $2.3 million contract from the city to run the program, riders made more than 5,800 trips and covered 8,000 miles in the first 30 days of operation. In that same time period 944 users had signed up for a “Go Pass” while an additional 500 people registered as “Founding Members.”

There are 21 stations and 180 bikes currently in operation, according to Baltimore Bike Share. The number of stations will expand to 50 and the number of bikes increases to 456 in the spring.

The stations, essentially high-end bike racks, are clustered primarily downtown and around the city’s waterfront, which critics argue makes bike share an amenity for the city’s wealthy neighborhoods.