Shared Bikes– and E-bikes– in the Transit Portfolio: CapMetro and MetroBike
In September 2020 Austin’s Capital Mero Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) began co-managing the local bikeshare system after a transfer of 50% control from the City of Austin. Rebranding the system as “MetroBike,” Capital Metro envisions integrating it with existing transit service, providing first mile-last mile connectivity and simplified ticketing for those wishing to combine bike share and transit in their journey. As a standalone mode, MetroBike could also fill mobility gaps for riders ill-served by existing fixed-route services. Capital Metro is one of a few transit agencies in the United States that manage bikeshare systems, along with Kansas City’s KCATA, Los Angeles’ LA Metro, Las Vegas’ RTC, and Dayton’s GDRTA.
Going forward, the city and transit agency will split the cost of managing MetroBike. Within weeks of the transfer being complete, Capital Metro had enabled users of its mobile ticketing app to purchase one-day or one-month MetroBike passes. In the short term, Metro sees MetroBike as an important way to provide mobility options to those uneasy about riding fixed-route transit service during the Covid-19 pandemic. Looking to the future, Capital Metro plans to leverage MetroBike to serve as a first mile-last mile solution, to expand the number of stations, and to upgrade the fleet from pedal bikes to electric bikes (e-bikes).
Capital Metro is the public transportation provider for the Austin region (Travis and Williamson counties), home to just under one million Texans. The authority traditionally operates bus, commuter rail, on-demand neighborhood circulators, and paratransit service, providing around 2.5 million monthly trips prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2013 the City of Austin launched a docked bikeshare system, called Austin BCycle, primarily operating in the downtown core. The city itself owned BCycle, with operations contracted to Bike Share of Austin, a non-profit organization. Riders could purchase individual trips or unlimited passes for days, months, or a year (trips are then free for up to 60 minutes). Around 4,500 trips were taken on BCycle in January 2020.
In 2018 leaders from the City of Austin and Capital Metro began discussing the potential transfer of BCycle to the transit authority. The city lacked capacity to significantly expand the system, and officials grew concerned about a potential conflict of interest as it regulated shared e-scooters. Meanwhile, integrating bikeshare into Capital Metro could attract new transit riders, especially with new services planned through Project Connect. The city and Capital Metro began working on a legal agreement that would facilitate such a transfer.
In the meantime, the city received a loan of 200 shared e-bikes to showcase them during SXSW 2020. The conference was canceled due to COVID, leaving the e-bikes in limbo. They were ultimately added to the BCycle system in April 2020 and proved wildly popular—each was used 3 to 4 times as often as a BCycle pedal bike.
In 2020 Capital Metro and the City of Austin reached an agreement to formally transfer 50% ownership of the B-Cycle system from the city to Capital Metro, which would rebrand it MetroBike. Under the agreement the city and transit authority would split operational costs, each contributing up to $250,000 annually for operational costs along with several hundred thousand dollars up front to facilitate upgrades to e-bikes and docks. Bike Share of Austin would continue to operate the system. The city and Capital Metro each appointed two members to a newly created MetroBike board, along with a non-voting member representing Bike Share of Austin.
In October 2020 the transfer and rebranding were complete. By mid-October Capital Metro had updated its mobile ticketing app to offer one-day and one-month MetroBike passes. The authority intends to hire a consultant to identify opportunities to leverage MetroBike to fill service gaps and provide first mile-last mile connections for transit riders. Capital Metro is also planning to purchase an additional 150 e-bikes to augment the roughly 550 pedal bikes and 200 e-bikes already in service.
In September 2020 over 11,000 trips were taken on Austin’s bikeshare network—an all-time high—but it is too early to assess the impact of integrating with Capital Metro. The authority plans to track future bikeshare ridership to determine MetroBike’s success. Capital Metro hopes to see continued growth in trips, especially compared with year-over-year BCycle totals. The authority will also watch to see how many people use MetroBike to access fixed–route transit service.
Capital Metro’s leaders embrace their role as mobility managers, with a 20-year goal of reducing the mode share of auto trips in Austin to 50%. They expect MetroBike to help them achieve that vision.
Chad Ballantine, Capital Mero’s VP for Demand Response, says that his only regret is that Capital Metro didn’t absorb bikeshare sooner. “We should have done this a long time ago” he says. “At first I thought it was nuts. We’re transit, why are we getting into bikes? But it just makes sense as a mobility provider, if you think of it from the customer’s perspective.”
- Interlocal Cooperative Agreement between Capital Metro and City of Austin
- Statement of Work for consultant to advise Capital Metro on MetroBike’s potential to address gaps in fixed-route service (October 2020)
For Further Information Please Contact: Art Guzzetti, APTA Vice President – Policy and Mobility at email@example.com