The $720,000 program will roll out in early September and will include 80 bikes and eight solar-powered stations throughout Downtown and near the University of Texas at El Paso, said Raymond Telles, director of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, which oversees the project.
The bicycle system will allow people to rent a bike at one station and return it at any other station, similar to those in other major cities throughout the country that have been lauded as a means to reduce vehicle use, promote air quality and encourage fitness.
El Paso's bike-share program, which has been in the works since 2013, was scheduled to begin in May 2014 and then earlier this year. The delay was primarily due to difficulties in acquiring funds, Telles said.
Originally a $2 million city-wide initiative, the project was scaled down after the Texas Department of Transportation declined to release $1.6 million from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. The El Paso Metropolitan Organization had approved the project, but TxDOT, which oversees the funds, argued that the program didn't address air quality enough to justify the funds.
The current budget includes $100,000 from the city, $276,000 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and $24,000 from University of Texas at El Paso. The rest of the money comes from federal funds TxDOT approved.
Now in its final stages, the bike-share program is intended for short trips around Downtown. The hope is that it will attract people to the area while reducing traffic congestion, particularly during events such as baseball games at Southwest University Park.
The mobility authority partnered with B-cycle, a company with bike-share systems primarily in Texas, the Midwest and East Coast, to bring the program to El Paso.
"We're very excited. It's been a long time coming," said Lee P. Jones, B-cycle's director of sales. "The one fascinating thing that happens when the systems go in is that they really change the dynamics of the city."
Bike-share programs in other cities have been implemented to address transportation, health and environmental concerns.
In Austin, the program began as a way to combat the city's growing traffic congestion problem, said Elliot McFadden, executive director of Austin B-cycle. An independent survey in November 2014 found that 27 percent of people used the bike-share program in Austin to replace a car trip and 38 percent had used the bike-share program in conjunction with a bus, rail or other mode of public transportation.
Members of the media have lunch near at the new B-Cycle station near the Witte Museum after riding from the the San Antonio Zoo. The bike-share program staff hosted members of the media to kick off the five new B-Cycle stations at the zoo, the Witte Museum, TriPoint, Sunset Station and Ace Mart Restaurant Supply on South St. Mary's Street. (Sarah Tressler)
In San Antonio, many people who used the bike-share program shared early on stories about losing weight, Jones said.
Bill Simons, board member of San Antonio B-cycle, said the bike-share system has made people "more cycle-oriented."
"It's a wonderful thing," he said of the increased bike use.
The concept of providing bicycles for short-term use around Downtown is not entirely new to El Paso. City employees have had the option of checking out bicycles from City Hall and other city buildings at no cost since 2013. Most of the people who check out bicycles, such as city senior planner Michael McElroy, use them to attend meetings or grab lunch.
McElroy said it's quicker to go somewhere Downtown on a bike rather than a car, particularly becuase there's no need to worry about traffic or one-way streets.
The locations outlined for the bike-share program, which targets visitors and residents alike, are San Jacinto Plaza, Oregon Street and University Avenue near UTEP, the university's library, El Paso Community College - Rio Grande Campus, City Hall, Sun Metro Downtown Transfer Center, Cleveland Square Park and the Union Plaza District.
People will be able to pay at kiosks to rent a bike. B-cycle typically offers daily, weekly, monthly and annual passes, though Telles said fees and membership options haven't been finalized. People are usually charged a few more dollars after 30 minutes because bike-share programs are intended for short-term use.
While the program and bicycles costs may seem hefty — an aspect some city representatives criticized in the past — Jones said the bikes are not conventional. These, he said, are meant to endure the worst of conditions, such as humidity and rain.
"They're designed to be very, very rugged," Jones said, adding that bicycles in Denver have been outdoors for six years and continue to function well with maintenance.
The launch of the eight stations in El Paso is considered a first phase of more to come, Telles said.
"The first phase will show what stations are popular," he said. "We'll see what's working, what isn't."
Most cities do expand their programs. San Antonio B-cycle, which began in 2012 with 14 stations and 140 bikes, is up to 55 stations and close to 600 bicycles. Austin, which has 46 stations and 375 bicycles, will add four more stations this week, McFadden said. Austin B-cycle began with 40 stations in 2013.
Jones said B-cycle encourages cities to seek sponsors so that, along with revenue from users, the program can become sustainable. Telles said the mobility authority will seek sponsorships and grants to expand the program.
"We'll be looking under every rock," he said.
A final step for the program to launch requires City Council to approve a license agreement that would allow the bicycle stations, which include docks and kiosks, to be installed on the proposed public sidewalks. The council is scheduled to consider the license agreement Tuesday and make a final decision Aug. 18.
David Hernandez may be reached at 546-6154.