New Orleans’ bike-sharing program is permanently dropping its prices after fielding complaints that its original charges were too high, officials said this week.
Blue Bikes has reduced ride costs from $8 an hour or 13 cents a minute to $6 an hour or 10 cents a minute. Monthly and annual plan prices will stay the same, at $10 a month for college students, $20 a year for low-income riders and $15 a month for other riders.
The initiative launched last December as part of a partnership between City Hall, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and Social Bicycles. It has made 700 bikes in 70 locations available to customers, and intends to expand to 900 bikes in 90 locations within the next two years.
Officials with the Blue Bikes program have not said whether the original prices were in line with those charged in other cities, only that accurate comparisons are difficult because different locations use different pricing models based on median income, city size and government subsidies.
Atlanta's bike share program, also run by Social Bicycles, charges $3.50 for 30 minutes and 15 cents a minute thereafter for tourists, and offers $15 monthly and $10 annual passes for locals, for example.
Asked whether Blue Bikes has received the ridership it expected at this stage, outreach coordinator Destinie Hammond said the program is still "in the process of establishing a baseline." So far, it has logged 224,000 total trips and has 29,000 active members. Most riders use monthly plans instead of the per-minute, pay-as-you-go plans, which suggests the program has been embraced by local residents, Hammond said.
Data also show that low-income riders use Blue Bikes consistently, even during the hot summer. That indicates the bike-share program fulfills a transportation need for that community, Hammond added.
A man in board shorts rolls his motorized scooter into the camera as the words fly across the screen: “The smart mobility revolution is here.”
To make the program even more accessible to its low-income customers, Blue Bikes has unveiled a cash payment option. Instead of simply downloading the program's app on a smartphone and paying with a credit card, low-income customers will be able to pay in cash at participating Family Dollar stores, 7 Elevens and CVS pharmacies.
Hammond said the new rates will hopefully help Blue Bikes attract new riders as temperatures cool off this fall. The program also wants to turn people who rode for free under one of its recent promotions into long-term customers.
Offering free rides to residents in September helped Blue Bikes log 10,000 more rides than it did in August.
The change comes as city officials are in talks with three scooter-share companies that want to set up shop in New Orleans, though Hammond said Blue Bikes has contemplated dropping prices for months and that there is more than enough room for different options.
Those companies would charge riders $1 to unlock their scooters and 15 cents a minute after that. Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration and the City Council is expected to finalize rules for their operation in the coming months.