After about five years of preparation, “Biki” — Honolulu’s first major bike-share rental system — finally gets rolling across town today.
The overnight influx of 1,000 distinct, bright-turquoise bicycles for rent at nearly 100 stations from Diamond Head to Chinatown is a win for local advocates trying to make this island city with some of the best year-round weather in the nation more bike-friendly.
But the question remains whether enough commuters and recreational riders will use the system as they’ve done in more than 60 other U.S. cities.
“We want to see not just the typical rider, but we want to try to get people who wouldn’t normally think about using a bike for transportation,” Bikeshare Hawaii CEO Lori McCarney said Tuesday.
Biki eventually aims to reach 2,000 rides a day in order to succeed, she said. That’s based on an industry standard of two daily rides per available bicycle.
“(It) seems achievable. I don’t know how long it’ll take for us to get there,” McCarney said Tuesday as crews secured several brand-new bicycles into a Biki station at Ala Moana Boulevard and Kamakee Street. “Let’s just see where we go from there.”
The system aims to give people another option to get around a city that’s saturated with cars and traffic. However, Honolulu city leaders have seen plenty of community resistance to efforts to expand bicycle commuting in recent years. Mayor Kirk Caldwell once described the 2-mile protected bike lane along King Street as “the most controversial thing we’ve touched — maybe even more controversial than rail.”
One of the most frequent complaints is that the King Street bike lane removed a valuable driving lane in order to benefit a small minority of commuters. McCarney and other Biki supporters hope the system will boost usage along the city’s growing network of bike lanes.
The bikes are custom-designed to entice more casual riders, they said — not just those seen cycling around town in athletic bike apparel. Users with a credit card can rent a Biki bike and then return it at another station near their destination.
They’ll be charged $3.50 for a single ride up to 30 minutes, according to the Biki website. They’ll also be able to buy a $15 monthly pass for unlimited rides lasting up to 30 minutes, or $25 monthly passes that allow unlimited rides up to 60 minutes. A map of the 100 bike-share sites is available online at 808ne.ws/2mgUN9Z.
While the pricing structures vary across the country, Biki’s single-day and monthly rates tend to be more expensive than other U.S. cities.
The Washington, D.C., system charges a $2 fare for a 30-minute ride, the Portland system charges $2.50 and the San Francisco system charges $3, according to those bike-share websites. (Los Angeles’ bike share charges $3.50, and Miami charges $4.50 for a 30-minute ride, those websites state.)
Bikeshare Hawaii developed its pricing after interviewing about 600 residents and visitors in the bike-share corridor, McCarney said Tuesday.
Furthermore, she added, many mainland systems shut down during the cold months, and they rely on taxpayer subsidies similar to public transit. Biki’s operator, Singaporean-based Secure Bike Share, won’t do either of those things, she said.
Biki did rely on about $2 million in city and state startup funds. Secure Bike Share then spent about $6 million in remaining capital costs for Biki, McCarney said.
“In this particular case, this company is taking a huge risk,” she said, but company officials “believe in Hawaii,” adding, “They think the system is going to work here.”
Biki will also offer a $20 “Free Spirit” pass that allows riders to use 300 minutes of riding whenever they want. McCarney said she’s not aware of any other bike-share systems that offer that, and that it was developed based on their interviews.
The Biki stations will remove about 60 public parking spaces across the system’s 5-square-mile area, McCarney said. “Parking is always the thing” that draws the most ire among local residents, and the stations removed parking only “as a last resort,” she said.
The system arrives as some neighborhoods, such as Kakaako, have seen their available parking erode and as drivers will soon have to pay double for city parking in downtown, Chinatown and parts of Waikiki.
Biki organizers hope the new bike trips will remove at least some of the shorter car trips in town that jockey for public parking. Station kiosks will include maps, as well as safety and riding instructions in English and Japanese to “give people the basic rules of the road,” McCarney said.
Users can download a phone app to monitor whether certain stations are full with bikes, and if they arrive at a full station, they’ll get 15 extra minutes without charge, she said. Biki and its 25 local employees will troubleshoot in the next six weeks so “we start to understand patterns, we start to understand issues,” McCarney added.
Biki will also feature a call center for users to seek help, she said.
Local transportation leaders have been working to launch the city’s bike share since 2012.
“I think some things just take longer to happen here,” McCarney said. “We didn’t have any big-name sponsors” like some mainland systems, she said.