Baltimore’s woebegone bike share program is no more.
The failed venture with docked bikes will be replaced by a six-month pilot program in partnership with electric scooter firms Bird and Lime, city officials announced Wednesday. The new program will provide 1,000 dockless scooters and bikes each at no cost to the city.
Baltimore Bike Share launched roughly two years ago but struggled with theft, vandalism, and maintenance problems.
“We need to back up and reevaluate where we are,” Michelle Pourciau, director of Baltimore’s Department of Transportation, said during a news conference at City Hall. “We’re so excited that we have an alternate that can come online immediately, and over the next few months we’ll reassess having dockless and docked (bike share programs). But right now we need to kind of look at something different.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh and Pourciau denied theft and vandalism forced Baltimore Bike Share’s demise. Issues with maintenance and providing the number of bikes needed, Porciau said, were drivers behind their decision.
Baltimore awarded Canadian firm Bewegen Technologies Inc. a $2.3 million contract in March 2016 to run the city’s bike share program. The first phase of the program called for 50 stations providing 500 bikes, including battery-powered Pedelec cycles.
There were 6,947 Baltimore Bike Share members as of this year, according to information on the program’s website, with nearly 76 percent of riders using the single-trip or Go Pass option. A monthly pass was offered to members for $15 a month for unlimited 45-minute rides.
By last September, however, thefts and maintenance problems forced the suspension of the program for about a month. There are currently more than 30 permanent and several temporary stations listed on Baltimore Bike Share’s website.
Corps. Logistics, a company founded by former military service members, was hired to install and maintain the system. As of last year, the company intended to hire 100 more veterans to help run the bike share program.
Neither Bewegen nor Corps. Logistics immediately responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
The current fleet of bikes will be removed by Bewegen from city streets by Friday. Residents who purchased Baltimore Bike Share memberships have until Sept. 30 to contact the Department of Transportation for a refund.
Officials dismissed concerns that vandalism and theft will hamper the new pilot program. Bird scooters started operating in the city earlier this summer and the electric scooters are omnipresent on streets and sidewalks downtown.
“We’re not concerned about it. These operators have operated in many cities and they come now to Baltimore with that experience. There are a few things that may get damaged for one reason or another,” Pourciau said. “But they’re here because they know they can operate here.”
Bird requires users to have an app installed on a smartphone to use a scooter. The company charges $1 to start the scooter and 15 cents a minute for a ride. The vehicles can be dropped off almost anywhere after a ride is ended using the app.
Lime, which works similarly to Bird, charges a flat $1 rate every 30 minutes for a pedal bike with no time limit. It charges $1 to unlock a scooter and charges varying rates per minute.
Both services require users to have debit or credit cards, while Bird also accepts Apple Pay.
Pourciau said the city has a goal to have a percentage of the vehicles located in low-income neighborhoods, but did not provide details.
Bird caused a stir earlier this summer when they seemingly appeared on Baltimore’s streets overnight. City officials said they were considering how to regulate the services. Pugh has previously mentioned the services as a potential revenue stream for the city.