Fifty Baltimore Bike Share bicycles to return to streets Sunday

About 50 bikes — a quarter of the initial Baltimore Bike Share fleet — will return to the streets Sunday, following a monthlong shutdown sparked by widespread thefts and maintenance backups, city officials said.

The refurbished bicycles have received upgraded GPS technology, paint and hardware. They will be available for rent at some of the docking stations around the city, according to the city Department of Transportation.

Jay Decker, the city’s bike share coordinator, and Veronica McBeth, the transit chief, said Thursday that they did not know how many stations, or which ones, would have improved locks installed in time to be reopened Sunday. But they are hopeful that the soft relaunch would give users faith in a rebound for the system.

“We want to say, ‘Thank you for your patience,’ to our riders,” McBeth said. “We look at the growing pains of the past to be the groundwork and foothold of moving into a successful system for the city in the future.”

The city temporarily shut down the $2.36 million program, which suffered so many thefts and maintenance delays that most of the bicycles were already out of service at the time of the Sept. 17 shutdown.

During the shutdown, about half the fleet was trucked back to the Montreal-based manufacturer, Bewegen, to be overhauled and the others were refurbished at the Westport headquarters of the program’s maintenance contractor, Corps Logistics, Decker said.

“The reason why we did that was to make sure we got the fleet updated and retrofitted as soon as possible,” he said. “They were splitting the task.”

The program launched last year with 200 bicycles for rent at 20 stations, with plans to expand to 500 bicycles at 50 stations.

Officials hope to get the initial fleet of 200 bikes back out on streets in time for the program's one-year anniversary on Oct. 28, Decker said. It will begin expanding soon afterward.

“Right after that, we’ll be installing the remaining stations,” he said.

Users may rent a bike for $2 for a 45-minute single trip or pay $15 for a monthly pass, which offers riders an unlimited number of trips for 30 days.

In addition to new locks to address the theft that dogged the system, stations are being pressure-washed and new signs are going up, McBeth said.

To address another major complaint from many users — a lack of communication from Bike Share officials regarding the shutdown — Bewegen has hired a Baltimore-based U.S. marketing adviser, Chris King.

Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, the city’s leading bicycling advocacy group, said she had checked in with King with a text message Thursday morning: “Will there be bikes out on Sunday?”

“That’s my main thing,” she said.

He answered her quickly that there would, Cornish said. King could not be reached to comment Thursday afternoon.

Bikemore members, many of whom bought monthly memberships for the program, had been its biggest supporters — and then turned into some of its biggest critics when bikes began disappearing from docks. At one point shortly before the shutdown, one user went from station to station and counted only four bikes available.

Cornish said the group’s members are eager for the program’s return.

“We’re looking forward to the relaunch of Bike Share,” Cornish said. “It’s an important piece of the multimodal transportation system of any American city right now. If we’re going to make progress, we’re going to need to continue to make investments in this type of infrastructure.”

Cornish — who has advised the city on bike sharing and other bicycling issues, such as a bicycling master plan — said she hopes the shutdown has given the program sufficient time to address its issues so it can expand as promised.

“It’s important for me to make sure that both the city and Bewegen are taking this opportunity to really regroup and come back with a higher level of customer service, better communication and a bigger network,” Cornish said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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