As Howard County's BikeShare program officially launched Thursday morning at the Columbia lakefront, dozens of bicyclists tested some of the new wheels dispersed across seven stations in Columbia.
Canadian transportation manufacturer Bewegen Technologies installed the station kiosks last week at seven locations: Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College, the Crescent development, Columbia Town Center, Lake Kittamaqundi, Oakland Mills Village Center and Blandair Park.
All 70 bicycles in the program have adjustable seating and front baskets, and 20 have electric-assist motors, designated by a lightening bolt on the back. Kiosks will keep track of how many trips are taken on each bike, its total distance traveled and GPS location to study riding patterns in the community.
Riders can sign up online for yearly, monthly or one-time membership passes at $85, $15 or $2, respectively. Passes include the first 45 minutes of riding, after which riders will be charged $2 every 30 minutes.
The county's office of transportation announced the program about a year ago and partnered with Bewegen, which has operated in Baltimore City since October 2016.
"The system is fully electronic, so every trip provides knowledge," said Chris Eatough, the county's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. "The BikeShare connects people and places and makes the journey as good as the destination."
At the July 6 launch, Eatough ushered in the program with Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, District 4 Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, Bewegen representatives and several community partners, including the Horizon Foundation and Howard Community College. Everyone ended the gathering by grabbing the new bicycles and riding them to one of the seven station destinations.
Dave Jordan, the associate vice president of human resources at HCC, said the BikeShare is a "win-win" for wellness and transportation in Columbia. Jordan, who was one of the riders to take a bicycle from the lakefront station to another Columbia station, often bikes to work from his home in Long Reach.
"If I'm at work and I don't have my bike with me that day, it would be easy just to hop on one and get food somewhere or run an errand," Jordan said. "[Columbia] is a community that supports wellness, so I think it will be popular. It's a community that's close enough together that you can get from one place to another pretty easily."
Loomis Zayzay, 23, a sophomore at the college, said parking on-campus will become less of a hassle now that he and his friends can use the BikeShare to grab lunch without worrying about losing their parking spot. It will also help save money spent on gas, he said.
"This will be more convenient. Some days, parking can be crazy," Zayzay said. "You can be looking for a parking spot for 30 or 40 minutes. Now, you don't have to move your car to go grab something to eat and come back."
The South Laurel resident said he hopes to see the program expand in Howard County and into neighboring counties, like Prince George's.
Promoting healthy lifestyles is part of the Horizon Foundation's daily life, added Nikki Highsmith Vernick, the foundation's president and CEO.
"It is so thrilling to see this pilot launched," she said. "The BikeShare program is a great way to get out, get healthy, visit downtown and see all the areas in the vicinity."
As of Thursday afternoon, the Howard County program had 58 pass-holding riders and 51 occasional riders, according to the county's BikeShare statistics. Riders have taken 54 trips using the program's bicycles, the data shows, with the majority of users checking out and returning bikes at the Columbia lakefront station. Other population stations are at the Oakland Mills Village Center and the Mall in Columbia.
"We're just really happy to bring this new mode of transportation to Howard County," said Braunyno Belo Ayotte, the director of business development and marketing at Bewegen.
Riders will receive customer surveys over time to gather feedback and establish riding patterns throughout the area. Transportation officials will study the community's ridership before making plans to expand elsewhere in Howard County.
"We have to let the thing run for a while to let that knowledge base grow," Eatough said. "The evaluation of the program will be ongoing."
Eatough said the transportation office will operate the program at approximately $750,000 over six years. Community partners will provide $700,000, including $450,000 from the Horizon Foundation over three years, and $50,000 from the county.
More information on the BikeShare program is available at https://howardcountybikeshare.com/.