Starting in May, Madison is expected to have a full-blown bike-sharing program, similar to the service started in Denver and European cities.
The program, called B-cycle, is a partnership started by three companies, Trek, the Innovation Center at Humana, and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. It has started programs in Denver, Chicago and Hawaii and has programs are in the works in four other cities, including Madison.
Madison will subsidize the program to the tune of $100,000 a year for three years. But the private partners plan to spend even more.
"We're putting in a million dollars up front," says Trek spokesman Eric Bjorling. "We really anticipate losing money. But Madison being our hometown, bike sharing is something we feel strongly about."
In Madison, the program will have 35 stations with 350 bicycles total. Users can buy a day, week or annual pass, using a credit or debit card at the station. With a pass, users simply grab a bicycle at one of the stations and return it at any other station.
The program will start in May, though locations of the stations and rental rates have not yet been established. According to Bjorling, the program has been a huge success in Denver, where the bikes have been checked out 100,000 times and driven 211,000 miles over the past two years.
"Bike sharing is one of the hallmarks of a great city," Bjorling says. "It's still a new concept to a lot of people. They just have to experience it."
Ald. Mark Clear, president of the Common Council, says the deal came about suddenly. "Trek made us an offer we shouldn't refuse, to basically fund all of the infrastructure," he says. "It's a little like the federal government offering $800 million for a train."
The city subsidy, if approved, would help defer operational costs. Former Ald. Brenda Konkel criticized the subsidy, saying "this is money from the contingent reserve, which is usually used for emergencies or overruns for things like snow plowing and police overtime and other unexpected costs."
But Clear notes, "It's not called emergency reserve, it's called contingency reserve. Contingency means something unexpected. This certainly fits in that category."
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz says he sees the program as an economic development effort, to help attract residents and create jobs.
"All the cities we compete with for talent are doing this," he says, mentioning Minneapolis, Denver and Portland. "It has that buzz to it. It'll also be an amenity that visitors will like. Third, trek is a major employer. If we can help them learn how to produce and market this new product, it means potentially a lot of jobs for the region."