Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper took time from his busy campaign schedule Friday to hop on an Aspen We-Cycle. The bike sharing system was being celebrated for its success. Just halfway through summer, the program’s already surpassed the total number of rides during its first season, last year. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.
We-Cycle is one of three bike sharing programs in Colorado and organizers say it’s the first of its kind in a rural U.S. community. On Friday Governor Hickenlooper praised the program during the state’s first-ever Colorado Bike Share Day.
"When we did the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008 we did the first bike sharing, which is now up to 1000 bikes. And you guys have about 100 bikes, right? How many rides did you have last year? 10,000 rides! That’s pretty impressive," he said to a small crowd.
After a quick speech, the Governor, decked in khakis and cowboy boots, hopped on one the system’s gray cruiser bikes for a test-drive through downtown. He was joined by Aspen’s mayor and several local cyclists.
We-Cycle is a seasonal program that started last year. It has seen quick growth with more than 11,000 rides so far this summer. That’s more than all the rides counted in 2013 in half the time.
"We have tremendous ridership on a daily basis," says We-Cycle cofounder Mirte Mallory. "What’s really exciting is over 50 percent of our rides are being made by our season pass holders. So, those are people using the bikes on a daily basis, integrating it into their routine of going to work, going to the store, getting groceries, running errands and going to meet friends."
Unlike a bike shop where you can rent all day, We-Cycle bikes are limited to 30 minute rides. When you’re done, you park the bike at one of fourteen stations around town. The idea is provide quick, point-to-point trips for people like commuters. Mallory says the number of people riding a bus to Aspen, then jumping on a We-Cycle is growing.
"We see on a daily basis, people getting off the bus at Peapcke Park and going to the Peapcke Park bike share station and taking off to their final destination. So, biking is really serving that last mile of the commuting experience."
It’s estimated the program has removed 32,000 pounds of carbon emissions by keeping people out of their cars. Mallory says a 2013 survey of season passholders revealed 42 percent of We-Cycle trips replaced car trips.
Still, many of these programs have run into problems. According to the Wall Street Journal, out of the 36 programs in big U.S. cities, more than half have dealt with technical snafus or trouble with funding.
And while bike sharing is increasingly plentiful in urban areas, it’s difficult to find such programs in small towns. But, that may be changing. By the end of this year, 37,000 publicly shared bicycles are expected to roll onto streets around the U.S., according to the Earth Policy Institute. Some of those will be in small towns. Mallory says she’s been taking inquiries.
"There have been a lot of eyes on Aspen," she says. "Can bike sharing succeed in a small community and without a doubt, yes. Here we are, in our second season, thriving with doubled ridership, increased usage and familiarity. As a result, we have more communities contacting us and asking, ‘how does it work, what are best practices and how can we start a program in our own towns.’"
In the years to come, We Cycle is planning to expand with more stations and bikes around town. For now, the system will continue to operate until the beginning of November when locals typically trade in their bikes for skis.