Lori McCarney pedaled in, checked in her bike in an empty stall and sat down for an interview at Auahi and Keawe streets, fronting the ninth most popular out of 89 Biki stations in Honolulu.
The rental kiosks, with their racks of cycles for hire, comprise the core elements in the new system launched by Bikeshare Hawaii, the nonprofit where McCarney serves as chief executive officer.
Waikiki has the highest-ranked stations, not surprisingly, but McCarney, 63, has theories about why this one is popular. It’s by some of the new eateries and shops springing up in Kakaako that people want to try without taking the trouble to drive.
More generally, she said, the hope is that new riders figure out how jumping on a bike for the ride from Point A to Point B will work in their lives. The pricing (a “Freespirit” package while they’re experimenting, a monthly pass once they’ve worked out a routine, a spur-of-the-moment $3.50 30-minute fare for impulse rides) is geared to accommodate the search for a biking schedule.
“As people try to figure this out, what we don’t know yet is: How will people make it their own?” she said.
Bikeshare Hawaii contracts with the city to manage the system of 1,000 bikes, a smallish but densely located network makai of the H-1 freeway in central Honolulu. The for-profit operator is Secure Bike Share, which fronted the investment in the bikes, a risk it was willing to take, McCarney said, because it wants to be a competitor in the growing urban marketplace.
Married with three grown sons, McCarney is an Ironman triathlete and was passionate enough about biking that she came out of retirement to take on this challenge. She worked in marketing and in other divisions at Bank of Hawaii and figures that her background helped her stick it out.
“I approach it as a business,” she said. “If I was going to put this in, and I wanted a broad variety of people to ride it, what would I do?”
The system is helped by a lighter-weight bicycle that is easier to control, McCarney said. And then there are the friendlier weather and traffic conditions.
“I thought that if bikeshare can work in Manhattan with so much congestion,” she added, “it had to be able to work in Honolulu.”
QUESTION: Honolulu is a place with the weather for biking but hasn’t been designed for it, so few people are comfortable, right?
ANSWER: We’re not the only city that’s been in this situation. Is it the chicken or the egg that comes first? If you try to put in a lot of bike lanes, and nobody uses them because it’s too inconvenient to have a bike, then there’s not this impetus to get out there.
So what Bikeshare does is, it makes most of the people who don’t bike, into who it’s targeted at. Right now we had almost 22,000 rides since we launched two weeks ago. And if you think about that, well, where did all those people come from? Why weren’t they riding before?
Q: Do you have metrics on who they are?
A: Not yet. … I haven’t yet been able to see visitor versus resident. … I’d like to do a survey. Because we’d really like this to be something used by residents, and by visitors, for transportation and for recreation. …
Q: Do you think the city’s level of bike-friendliness will hinder Biki?
A: More people will use Biki when there are more places people feel safe to ride. But, to get more safe places to ride, more people need to bike to support creating them. Other cities such as New York and Chicago started their bikeshare programs without a ton of bike lanes. As more people biked, they added more bike lanes, and then more people biked, and they added more lanes — you get the picture.
Q: A lot of people say $3.50 per 30 minutes costs more than TheBus, and thus too expensive to attract local riders. How do you respond?
A: If I’m really late and a Biki will get me there quicker than another option, $3.50 might be a good price. But, it’s not the best value. I really encourage kamaaina to visit gobiki.org and sign up for one of three membership options. …
Q: How is early ridership looking to you? What targets does Bikeshare Hawaii have for growth in the coming year?
A: Early ridership is looking strong. In our first week of operations, we had over 10,000 Biki rides and over 4,800 users. This included what could be considered a four-day Fourth of July holiday, and people trying it out, so we don’t believe we can achieve that every week. We’ll see.
Our goal is to get more people, and more kinds of people using Biki. That’s why we have a variety of pricing plans and an easier-to-ride bike than in other cities. Numeric ridership goals are difficult to set since we’re brand new and can’t really compare ourselves to other cities. However, on a macro level, we’re targeting a conservative industry measure — number of rides per bike per day. Other cities see anywhere from under one to over seven. We’ve started with a goal of two, or 2,000 rides per day.
Q: What is the staffing of Bikeshare Hawaii?
A: Our nonprofit, Bikeshare Hawaii, has three employees: me as executive director, Justine Espiritu as grants and programs manager, and Kelsey Colpitts, marketing and communications manager. Our team must meet the requirements of the agreement we have with the city for bikesharing and are the ones organizing locations and outreach. Marketing, gobiki.org and the Biki app are also our kuleana.
In addition, we develop partnerships with others to help us best serve the community. We have been initially supported since 2015 by a grant from the city and state, and donations from organizations and individuals. …
Just like in most other cities, our role is to manage and direct a bikeshare operator to run day-to-day operations. In this case, that is Secure Bike Share. They are the Biki crew, fixing bikes, moving them around, manning the local call center and more. Their staff is comprised of full- and part-time folks, around 15-20 people at any one time. We all work together to make Biki the best it can be for our community.
Q: Will the Biki network expand to other parts of Oahu, or the state?
A: Perhaps. There are communities that have reached out already. We need to first get urban Honolulu under our belt, serving it very well, before we consider that. It will take a lot of discussion and collaboration with other communities, on Oahu and the neighbor islands, to see if Biki makes sense for them and how we might partner.
Personally, I think it would be great to be able to use my Biki Pass when I visit other communities and islands.
Q: Are there cities where the Biki system was tried but failed? Is there something more Honolulu needs to do to ensure success?
A: Pretty much every one of the nearly 60 bikeshare systems on the mainland is unique to its city, and I’m aware of only a couple that have failed. There were compounding reasons why. Seattle is an example — lots of hills, rainy weather, not enough bikeshare stations and a mandatory helmet law all added to their woes.
More typical are systems that are underused. We looked at those to understand why and not make the same mistakes.
Urban Honolulu already has some important bikeshare success criteria — flat terrain; lots of residences, businesses and attractions in a very compact area; good weather year-round; a visitor market; and the support of the local government. To leverage that, we focused on meeting the needs of a potential Biki user — price options, our bike, customer service, numerous well-placed Biki Stop locations, and outreach/marketing. We’re constrained in ridership until we have more bike lanes.
Q: What can your organization do to help people overcome their fear of city cycling?
A: We understand that it can be scary to consider using Biki, especially if you don’t know the rules of the road or what you can do to ride safely. That’s why we are partnering with the Hawaii Bicycling League. They have a number of programs and tools that people can explore online. Additionally, we are hosting a free series of Biki Bicycling Basics workshops through July to give people hands-on instruction and refreshers. Visit www.hbl.org/bikibasics for info.