Boston's new Hubway system could transform how you get around town
On April 21, amid a throng of cyclists gathered at City Hall Plaza, Boston Mayor Tom Menino announced that the city had just inked a deal to institute a bike-sharing system that would be operational by mid-summer this year. The Hubway, as it will be called, will offer more than 600 bikes at 61 stations strategically located throughout Boston. The system will be the fifth of its kind in a major US city (following Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, and Washington, DC).
The purpose of Hubway will be to fill in gaps in the MBTA system and to get non-cyclists cycling. “You could come in to North Station or South Station,” says Nicole Freedman, Menino’s bike-planning czar and a former Olympic cyclist, “and hop on a bike instead of having to transfer to the Red Line and then the Green Line.”
The $6 million needed to fund Hubway for its initial three-year commitment will not come from local tax dollars, but through a federal grant, corporate sponsorships, and user fees. The money will be used for start-up costs, capital equipment, and to subsidize the operation over the first three years. Under the deal, a company called Alta Bicycle Share will install and maintain the system.
Hubway will operate on a business model akin to the one popularized by Zipcar. Members will pay an $85 annual fee and will be given access to the kiosk stations where they can unlock a bike for use or return it. The bikes are meant to go from station to station. Any trip under 30 minutes is free; there is a surcharge for time usage thereafter (for example, if you kept a Hubway all day, it could cost you close to $70). The product is designed for quick one-way trips and is not intended to compete with or replace bike rentals. Tourists or locals who don’t have a membership can purchase one-day passes for $5.
Unlike Zipcar, bikes can’t be reserved online, but the number of bikes available at a given station can be checked. Alta’s even got a smart-phone app for bikers on the go.
The stations are solar-powered, weighted mobile structures that will be removed during the inclement-weather months, and Alta, which runs similar programs in several other cities, will actively service the system. During the day, bikes will be checked and trucks will be dispatched to rebalance stations where there are too many or too few bikes. “Safety and cleanliness are our first priority,” says Alison Cohen, president of Alta Bicycle Share.
Members will also have to sign a waiver and pledge to wear a helmet. Venues are being explored to provide a cheap and easy means of procuring helmets.
Hubway is not without its critics. Some within the cycling community argue that the money could have been used to better and further the city’s nascent cycling infrastructure. Many others, however, like Xuân Mai Võ of Boston, feel that “more bikes on the road will strengthen cycling’s presence.”
“It’s not an ‘either/or,’ ” explains Freedman. “The goal is to be a world-class bicycling city, and to get there we need to do a lot. So in conjunction with the bike share, we are adding to the infrastructure.”
Plus, the sponsorship dollars (headlined by donations from New Balance and Harvard) would likely not be available for public improvements. With Hubway, sponsors can put their brand out there, help the community at large, and take care of their own constituents - with a Hubway station situated at a hospital or university.
For the Hubway system to be successful, it needs to grow rapidly into other communities, and under the guidance of Metropolitan Area Planning Council,talks are ongoing to implement it in Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline as well. “Because of the way metro Boston is laid out,” says MassBike’s David Watson, “it truly has to be a regional system. If you can’t take a Hubway from downtown Boston to Harvard Square, that’s a problem.”
Freedman and Cohen hope for 100,000 rides and 4000 members in Hubway’s first year. That may sound ambitious, but given the DC system’s numbers - 300,000 rides and 11,000 members over its first year - Hubway wheels are sure to be spinning around the Hub.