BikeShare stations are coming soon to downtown, Southern University and LSU.
The Baton Rouge Metro Council voted Wednesday to start a public-private partnership to help pay for the program, which will bring 500 bikes to each location. The city-parish is getting a federal grant to pay for 80 percent — or about $593,904 — of the BikeShare costs, while the Metro Council agreed that City Hall will pay the remaining 20 percent.
The city-parish will call for proposals from private companies willing to sponsor BikeShare. Though the Metro Council eventually voted unanimously to invest in the BikeShare program, the discussion surrounding whether to do so grew lengthy and heated.
Proponents who urged council members to add a BikeShare program said it would be a quality-of-life improvement that would especially appeal to college students and millennials entering the workforce. Bre'Anna Perkins, who spoke on behalf of Southern University's Student Government, said she and her peers were thrilled that a BikeShare could provide new ways to move around campus and give students more access to the areas around Southern.
"It'll probably help that 'freshman 15' problem that we have," she joked, stirring chuckles from council members about the term signifying the weight gains that plague many college freshmen.
But others wondered why local government should invest its money into a BikeShare program and questioned the Baton Rouge Area Foundation's influence over it. BRAF paid for a Baton Rouge BikeShare study and created the Baton Rouge BikeShare nonprofit.
Frequent council attendee Phil Lillard used the forthcoming New Orleans BikeShare program as an example, saying New Orleans did not have to use tax dollars to lure it.
Lindsey Gray West, executive director of Baton Rouge BikeShare, said New Orleans has a much larger tourism market than Baton Rouge and that the tourism in New Orleans allows the city to have a fully privatized BikeShare system. It makes more sense for Baton Rouge to embrace a public-private partnership model, she said.
West also said the corporate sponsor for Baton Rouge's BikeShare will spend more money than the city-parish on it, as the corporate sponsor would carry about $500,000 annually for five years.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker said having a BikeShare program in Baton Rouge will likely pay for itself because of its ability to lower health care costs in a city known for indulgent food. And Councilman Buddy Amoroso said having a BikeShare could bring more tourists into Baton Rouge, using himself as an example of someone who has traveled cross-country to go on bike rides.
As the Baton Rouge recreation and parks commission continues work on a trail system throughout the parish, Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg said having a bike share program is a perfect complement to the trails.
But Councilwoman Chauna Banks asked whether the BikeShare program would spur the high crime rates in Baton Rouge, and asked whether having bikes on college campuses would lead to vandalism. She slammed BRAF's involvement in BikeShare and said she would not fall for the "dangling carrot" of including bikes at Southern University.
"A true philanthroper (sic) is not about building themselves and being capitalist," Banks said. "The richer BRAF becomes, the poorer the northern part of the parish becomes."
Editor's note: This story was changed Monday, Oct. 30, to show that a federal grant will pay 80 percent — or about $593,904 — of the BikeShare costs.