Lyft will pay $270,000 to sponsor five Baltimore Bike Share stations for three years, in a first-of-its-kind partnership for the San Francisco-based rideshare company that will also add designated Lyft pick-up zones at the stations.
The “transportation hubs,” as the company is calling them, will be located at the Baltimore Visitor Center, National Aquarium, Harbor East, Hopkins Place and Shot Tower bike share stations. The company announced the hubs with bike share and city officials at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
“This progressive agreement underscores our collective mission to support more accessible, convenient and reliable transportation systems across the city,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement. “This public-private partnership will help the city thrive by providing more sustainable mobility options.”
Lyft has long been exploring a way to invest in the troubled bike share system, which has struggled to maintain a critical mass of bicycles on the streets due to thefts, vandalism and a long maintenance backlog.
“We’ve been talking with Bike Share and [the city transportation department] about this for a long time,” said Mike Heslin, Lyft’s Baltimore market manager. “We’re going in with clear eyes. We’ve had frank discussions with them as the partnership has come together.”
The bike share kiosks will be rebranded, and each hub will have official city signage denoting it as a passenger loading zone, he said.
“People now will know this is a place they can go for all forms of shared mobility,” Heslin said.
The bike share system has other station sponsors including the University of Maryland, Exelon, the Maryland Transit Administration and others. Baltimore Bike Share has not been able to attract a corporate sponsor to brand the bicycles and infuse the program with private dollars.
The $2.36 million Baltimore Bike Share program, paid for by state and federal grants, launched in October 2016 with 200 bicycles at 20 stations. Renting a bike costs $2 for a 45-minute single trip or $15 for a monthly pass, which offers riders an unlimited number of trips for 30 days.
The program was supposed to expand last spring to 500 bicycles at 50 stations, but that didn’t happened. Instead, bike shortages grew so widespread that at one point in the summer, one user rode around and counted only four bikes across the entire system.
City officials shut the program down from Sept. 17-Oct. 15 to allow the program’s Canadian vendor, Bewegen, and the Westport-based maintenance contractor, Corps Logistics, to reset the system. The “soft relaunch” brought only about a quarter of the original fleet back into service.
Still, Heslin said, innovative moves like the Lyft partnership are a good indication things are looking up. The Baltimore Bike Share program, he said, has “really come a long way in [bike] availability and expansion in the last couple months.”
Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, the city’s bicycling advocacy group, cheered Lyft’s investment. To make the most of it, she said, the city must move forward on its stalled $2.85 million protected bike lane network, which will encourage more people to use the bike share system.
“Sponsorships demand a return on investment,” Cornish said. “For bike share, that looks like more people riding bikes. You know what gets more people riding bike share? Protected bike lanes.”