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Lansing becomes a pioneer in Michigan, launching bike share program

Bike Share - Photo ęDave Trumpie
Bike Share - Photo ęDave Trumpie
When it seemed that the launch of a new bike share program in Lansing was starting off with a flat tire, Lynne Martinez was not in the least discouraged. The bike share program was initially to launch at the beginning of August, but a glitch in the bike locking mechanisms stalled the pilot.

“It will work. Chicago and New York were each a year behind their targeted launch dates. Much bigger and more complex systems. But this stuff is never easy,” says Martinez.

Martinez is principal of the Martinez Consulting Group, LLC, and now also a consultant to a new, nonprofit bike share program called Capital Community Bike Share (CCBS). For almost seven years, Martinez was a representative with the State of Michigan, serving on the House Appropriations Committee for Human Services, Community Health, Higher Education and Local Government. She understands her city and its needs.

“I have been active in the community for 30 years, helping Lansing grow,” says Martinez. “About two and a half years ago, I started to get interested in bike share programs. There are successful bike share programs in many large cities—Denver, Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis, and others. I thought this would be great for Lansing, too.”

Martinez found a major obstacle, however, as she investigated other bike share programs across the country: cost. All the successful bike share programs she found were in major cities with major budgets.

A bike share program places bicycles for public use at designated spots throughout the city, available for rental. Some use kiosks, or stations, where the bicycles are parked, ready for renters. A bike sharing program works in a similar fashion to Zipcars, a sharing program with cars that available for renters to pick up and drop off at their destinations, rented by the hour or by the day.

“I thought such a bike sharing program would be great for Lansing,” says Martinez. “It would encourage economic development, as bicyclists tend to make more stops along their routes than drivers. It’s good for the environment, too, reducing carbon emissions. But when I checked with some of these bike share companies, I found they were very expensive and wouldn’t work well for a mid-size or smaller city.”

The big companies weren’t a good fit for Lansing, but a small start-up in Ann Arbor, A2B Bikeshare, turned out to be just right.

“Capital Community Bike Share contacted us, and they were excited about how affordable we are,” says Ansgar Strother, CEO and a co-founder of the bike sharing business in Ann Arbor. Strother is an engineering student at University of Michigan College of Engineering, completing his last semester. The idea for A2B Bikeshare came to him as an engineering class project.

“We are an automated bike rental network that provides a green transportation alternative to communities,” he explains. “When we looked at current systems, we saw that they provided an imperfect customer experience. Yet people wanted bike sharing so badly that they were settling for these imperfect systems. That was my a-ha moment.”
That a-ha moment had an echo in Lansing.

“When I heard about A2B Bikeshare, I thought this was worth exploring,” says Martinez. “They cost about a third less than the others. We had an opportunity to be their beta test. It’s exciting for us in Lansing and for the entire state to watch how it works here.”

Strother explains: “The high cost of many bike share programs is in their stations and the bike racks. They can cost $4,000 to $6,000 per bike, rack and kiosk. Then there are systems of bikes without stations, using technology right on the bike. But then there is no place for branding. Our solution is the Smart Bike—Dumb Rack.”

Not so very dumb. The racks are individual, one per each 3-speed bike, and the technology is directly on the bike rather than in the station. “That brings the cost down to about $2,000 per bike,” says Strother. The technology, a small screen on the handlebars of the bike, allows the rider to check in and make a payment, access a GPS mapping system, track calories burned and carbon emissions saved, and even note points of interest en route. A small solar panel on the back of the bike keeps it all self-sustainable. Apps are available for Android and Smart phones.

“We’ll have 20 bikes available by end of August,” says Martinez. “And we will be the first city in Michigan to launch a bike sharing system! Our plan is to add more bikes as we watch demand.”

Martinez raised $31,000 to establish CCBS, from donations, grants and memberships. A $40 membership entitles the rider to use any system bike at any time, or $5 a day for a non-member. Bikes are free for 30 minutes for members and non-members, then $2 for thirty-minute increments after that.

“Michigan Avenue will be a critical location for the bikes,” says Martinez, excitement evident in her voice. “That’s a critical artery in our community. Old Town is a popular destination, too. Imagine how nice it will be to bike instead of ride.”

Strother admits he’s not much of a biker himself. He’s more into the technology of the system, he says. Martinez, however, enjoys biking. “Oh yes, I’m a biker, and that was one of my considerations when choosing a program. I’m vertically challenged, only about 5 feet tall, so I found the A2B bikes to be great for someone like me, a lighter model and easy to adjust. I’ve seen tall people ride them, too, in comfort. Bicycles are a wonderful, reliable way to travel.”

For more information, email info.capitalcommunitybikeshare@gmail.com or visit the CCBS Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Capital-Community-Bike-Share/173804209332778

Racks are located at the corner of Grand River Avenue and Turner Street in Old Town; City Hall plaza; City Market; the Stadium District; the 700, 1400 and 2000 blocks of East Michigan Avenue; Sparrow Hospital; and the corner of Washington Avenue and South Street in REO Town.
 
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Zinta Aistars is a freelance writer for Capital Gains. 

Photos © Dave Trumpie
 
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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