Daniel Boyle, the chef de cuisine at Carmo on Julia Street, has found a new way to buy groceries for his kitchen.
Instead of hopping in his car and battling traffic over to the Rouses Market on Baronne Street, he walks a block down to a rack of bright blue, public bikes, punches in his account number, unlocks one and goes.
“I just signed up a week ago,” Boyle said, pulling groceries from the bike’s front basket. “And I already feel that I’ve got my money’s worth.”
Boyle is one of thousands of people renting bikes under New Orleans' bike-share program, which launched in December as a way to expand the city’s low-cost, public transportation options.
It's part of a growing national trend among municipalities hoping to cut congestion and pollution. Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration has established a goal to cut the city's overall carbon emissions in half by 2030.
At present, 700 bikes at 70 stations in the city are up for grabs, with 200 more bikes due to be added over the next four years. And officials are heartened by a recent spike in users as the city settles into the warmer, breezier temperatures of spring.
More than 700 new users signed up this past weekend, the most in any one weekend since the program started, spokesman Deepak Saini said.
Some 7,300 people have ridden the bikes overall, paying either $8 an hour or $15 a month to do so. Those in the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program pay only $20 a year.
Pickup locations are spread over neighborhoods including the Central Business District, Treme and Mid-City. Bikes are not yet available in New Orleans East, most of Algiers, Gentilly, Lakeview and most of Uptown.
However, as the program grows, bike hubs could potentially spread to those neighborhoods or elsewhere, depending on its success and residents' input, city officials have said.
Three months in, people are using the bikes at about the rate officials had expected, representatives for Blue Cross Blue Shield, the program’s title sponsor, said Tuesday. However, they would not discuss revenue figures.
The city’s public-private partnership with Blue Cross and the operator, Social Bicycles Inc., means that no public money is involved in the initiative. Instead, Blue Cross, other advertisers and the program’s own revenue must keep it afloat.
If Social Bicycles makes more than $2,500 per bike, it must give the city 2 percent of its earnings.
It's unclear how the popularity of New Orleans’ program, at this stage, compares with that of other fledgling initiatives in similarly sized cities.
Still, Dr. Corey Hebert, a New Orleans physician who has worked with Blue Cross to promote the bikes, said he’s seen more and more residents using them to get to events like Pelicans games, after many locals seemed at first to assume they were mainly for tourists.
“I think they are starting to really get that, ‘Hey, I can use this and it’s made for me,’ ” Hebert said.
The next step is to get people to use bikes to commute to work or school, and for exercise, he added. Thus far, data show that users have burned off 3 million calories over 34,000 trips.
Had each of those users driven a car instead, those trips could have released more than 67,000 pounds of carbon gases into the air, officials said.
Boyle, the chef, thinks more people would use the program if they knew more about how it works, and if it was available in more places.
“There’s a lot of neat little things I had to research,” he said — like the fact that the bikes can be attached to a regular green city bike rack if a blue hub isn’t nearby.
Boyle also thinks the bikes could be spread out a little more. “I definitely think there’s some underserved areas and neighborhoods," he said.