Wheeling it: After delays, Valley bike-share plan is now a go

WESLACO — They’ve kicked the tires, and now the Rio Grande Valley is ready to buy.

A bike-share program called BCycle is on the horizon nearly six months after a plan to seed the region with dockless Lime bikes fell through.

Thanks to donations from the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization, which has committed $408,000, and the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation’s $250,000, a new docked bike program looks set to begin in time for summer. The City of McAllen will provide a third revenue stream, committing its current BCycle program to the regional effort, a contribution of about a half-million dollars.

“We will be transitioning McAllen’s BCycle program into RGV BCycle,” said Ron Garza, executive director of the LRGVDC. “We’ll be working really closely with the cities to determine where those stations will go all across the Valley. But again it’s a unified system and citizens all across the Valley will be using one system.”

The new BCycle RGV program will have dedicated bike docking stations where the bikes must be returned, unlike the dockless Lime system.

Two-wheeled turmoil

Harlingen did not renew a $17,000-a-year contract with the Zagster bike-share company after two years because officials anticipated the Lime bikes would replace them. The city used grant funds to pay for the Zagster bikes, which were removed along with their racks from McKelvey Park and at UTRGV at the end of last August.

Brownsville also did not renew its Zagster bike-share contract in anticipation of the Lime bikes.

Now both cities are looking ahead to a resumption of bike-sharing, although they, like other municipalities, have to put up a matching grant for each bike they want to deploy.

“With BCycle, we will actually own it locally,” Garza said this past week. “So basically it’s just like running a bus service, a micro-bus service. The cty of McAllen currently has 90, and the intent is we don’t move their stations, but their bikes then can go wherever the users take them.”

The Hidalgo County MPO funding will, since it is limited by law, be applied only to BCycle operations within the county. The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation funds will be spent in Cameron County.

“We’re going to buy right off the bat an additional 50 to put in Cameron County, and then we’ll slowly kind of up that,” he added. “A perfect example is Harlingen and San Benito. I think a lot of people are going to utilize that. If somebody wants to take the bus back, get a ride and not jog back, they just leave it at the station.”

BCycle has bike-share programs running in five Texas cities. In addition to McAllen, Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth are in the BCycle stable.

Pay and ride

The docking systems are similar to the canceled Zagster program in Harlingen. Users will register via an app in their mobile phones and purchase daily, weekly or annual passes, the latter of which will cost about $70, Garza said.

“The BCcycles are the most universal in the nation,” Garza said. “So when you buy a membership to that, if you go to San Antonio or Austin or anywhere else, you can use the same membership. More importantly, in the Valley now, we’ll have one system.”

Unlike the Zagster bike-share plan, or the Lime plan, the BCycle plan necessitates the purchase of the bikes. Garza said this will allow the region to keep user fees affordable.

“The way it currently works right now is that the city staff repairs the bikes,” Garza said. “We’ll be doing contractual work, we’ll have contracts. So any time it needs rebalancing or maintenance, we’ll contract somebody in to do that.

“Obviously, the more users we have, the more bikes we can expand to,” he added. “But we want to cover minimum costs. And because there was so much grant funding, the only city investment is the match to provide the numbers of equipment that they want, they’ll be providing a local match.”

At least for now, these new bikes won’t be electric bikes, which are growing in popularity.

“These bicycles are a traditional bicycle, and that is for health and wellness,” Garza said. “We want to encourage new riders who have never exercised.”

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