By this time next month, residents and tourists in New Orleans will be able to pick up a bicycle at one spot in the city and drop it off at another, the realization of a lengthy effort to diversify public transit in the city.
Officials this week revealed the 70 locations where 700 bicycles will be available as part of the city’s first bike-sharing program, scheduled to start in December.
The sites are largely concentrated in the Central Business District, French Quarter and other neighborhoods along the Mississippi River, with some in Treme and near City Park.
For $15 a month, a biker will be able to ride for up to an hour each day. Low-income residents can ride in the same manner but will pay only $1.67 a month, or $20 a year. For every hour per day after the initial hour, a biker would pay the regular $8 rate.
The lower monthly rate is likely to appeal to residents, while the higher hourly rate is expected to suit the needs of tourists.
The program, dubbed “Blue Bikes,” is the result of a partnership among City Hall, Social Bicycles Inc. and lead sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana.
Bicycle-sharing programs have risen in popularity across the country, as numerous cities, seeking remedies for traffic congestion, have begun offering more travel options for their residents.
Creating such a program in New Orleans has been a priority of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration since 2010. The city has also created dozens of miles of bike paths.
"Bringing bike share to our city will expand transportation options for our residents and visitors at a low cost," a spokeswoman for Landrieu said Friday. "Building quality public transit is essential to us becoming a city for the ages. We can’t wait for the program to begin in the coming weeks."
The program itself won’t cost City Hall any money. Instead, it will be financed with sponsorship money from Blue Cross and other advertisers, as well as revenue from the bike rentals.
In fact, it’s expected to make money for the city in time, with Social Bicycles slated to give the city 2 percent of anything the firm makes over the first $2,500 for each bike.
That money will go toward bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and education programs, city officials have said.
The program’s initial 70 stations and 700 bicycles will swell to 90 stations and 900 bicycles within four years, with more expansion possible, depending on the success of the initiative.
The first 70 sites were chosen after months of public "listening sessions" and an online survey. The stations will be placed in neighborhoods such as Treme, St. Roch, the CBD and Bywater, according to a map provided by the city.
Each bike is linked to a GPS tracking system, allowing the city to track thefts and provide maintenance. Bikes and stations will be put in place starting in December, with installation continuing in phases during the ensuing two months.
Eligibility requirements for the low-income program will be announced in coming weeks.