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Bikeshare Hawaii director says Biki on brink of going under

Nina Wu
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Bikeshare Hawaii executive director Todd Boulanger speaks on Spotlight Hawaii.

Bikeshare Hawaii executive director Todd Boulanger said without financial help, Biki is on the brink of going under within three to six months.

“There is always a chance that Biki the bikeshare system in Honolulu will close,” said Boulanger, a featured guest on this morning’s Spotlight Hawaii. “That could happen in 3 to 6 months depending how our discussions with the city go in any short-term bridge funding. We hope it doesn’t come to that.”

However, Biki took a hit during the pandemic, with a 50% drop in number of trips in 2020.

In 2019, Biki logged about 1.4 million trips, but in 2020, that dropped to about 700,000 trips.

“We had expected 2020 to be even a bigger growth year than 2019,” said Boulanger. “So that 1.4 million trips should probably have been 1.8 million trips based on past growth.”

Bikeshare Hawaii was even hoping to launch electric bikes this year as a way to improve accessibility to those who live in the back of Palolo Valley, for instance, and could use some pedal-assist for longer distances and uphill climbs.

Unfortunately, with pandemic-related shutdowns, a severe drop in tourists, and more people telecommuting, the number of trips fell.

Boulanger said Bikeshare Hawaii has reached out to its 44,000 customers to ask for their support by contacting Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Honolulu City Councilmembers.

An email blast that went out April 27 said: “Honolulu is on the verge of losing our bikeshare system like 46 other U.S. cities that have lost their shared micro-mobility service during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why we’re asking for your help to save Biki.”

As an essential mobility service, Biki remained open at full capacity last year. Last month, Bikeshare Hawaii decommissioned six stations and reduced its call center hours to cut costs.

More cutbacks will likely be necessary in coming weeks in order to survive.

An online petition launched a week ago by the Blue Planet Foundation and other supporters gathered nearly 1,800 signatures by noon today.

Supporters signing the petition called Biki “an affordable, clean, and healthy way to get around Honolulu” while others said removing the bikeshare system would mean “more traffic, more pollution, less exercise, and less cheap transportation options.”

An informal, online “Big Q” poll of 69 Star-Advertiser subscribers, however, found that 32% felt bikesharing is needed, while 33.3% said they like Biki, but it should not receive a city subsidy, and about 35% said they “don’t care for Biki.”

In June 2017 Bikeshare Hawaii launched Biki with $2 million in startup funds from the city and state. The bikeshare had been successful, and at its two-year mark, became the sixth most used bikeshare system in the nation.

That put it on par with bikeshare systems in Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

At its height, it offered about 1,300 bicycles at 136 Biki stops from Iwilei to Diamond Head to Iwilei and Kaimuki while logging more than 100,000 rides a month.

Boulanger said Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s office has indicated an interest in having discussions, and that he has been in dialogue with the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services about both short- and long-term plans for Biki.

He did not specify how much Biki would need as a short-term bridge to survival, saying only that it was somewhere in the ballpark of several hundred thousand dollars.

“We’re really coordinating with DTS and asking City Council to investigate any available funds to kind of help us bridge through this pandemic impact on our service so that we can continue operating years 5 and on,” he said.

Honolulu’s bikeshare system is unique in that it is a private-public partnership whereas most bikeshare systems in the U.S. are public systems.

Bikeshare Hawaii, a nonprofit, manages the bikeshare in partnership with the city and state, but Secure Bike Share Hawaii, a for-profit entity, made the initial investment in the Biki bikes and runs day-to-day operations.

However, Boulanger said a bikeshare system fits into the city’s recently released Climate Action Plan as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, he said Biki proved popular among resident members during the pandemic.

“We found many of our members still used Biki during the pandemic,” he said. “When we surveyed our members in June and July, 79% said they were still riding Biki because they felt it was the most safe, to them, public-shared mobility mode in town.”

During pre-pandemic times, local residents made up 65% to 70% of trips, but that increased to about 80% during the pandemic, he said.

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