NOLA has buses, and plans for streetcar expansion are underway. Nonetheless, with less than 1400 cabs in a city of more than 360,000, it’s hard to get around in the Crescent City. Thanks to Bike Easy, the EPA, and city officials, public transportation could soon become a little easier with a new bike share program. The initiative is still in its infancy, but the first step marks a major jump for New Orleans as she makes plans to join the ranks of 22 other major American cities.
Next time you see a drunken tourist with a hand grenade, put on a friendly face. He or she could be subsidizing cheap, eco-friendly public transportation for us locals. Over Super Bowl weekend, Bike Easy and the City teamed up to implement a weekend-long bike share program that served over 500 people in five days. Under the long term bike share plan, tourists will be able to buy a $5 pass that will allow them to use their bike for 30 minutes at a time for free.
NoDef spoke to Bike Easy Director Jamie Wine about the plans. “There are two different fees, one for residents and one for tourists,” explained Wine. “The tourists are subsidizing the residents’ use of the system.”
A local can buy an annual pass for $65-$85, the cost is still to be determined. “It’s less than the cost to ride the bus,” said Wine.
Wine said the program fulfills their nonprofit’s core goals.
“That’s the thing about biking, it touches many different pieces. There are four major pieces [in Bike Easy's philosophy]. Transportation equity, environmental improvement, traffic congestion reduction, and physical activity,” said Wine.
The program is already in effect in a number of American and European cities. One of the federal funds New Orleans may be able to tap is the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ). For years, New Orleans’ air quality was actually too good to receive such a subsidy. However, the feds upped their standards for clean air, and New Orleans is now eligible.
“There are less dirty standards now, so New Orleans might be able to qualify for CMAQ money,” explained Wine.
The city has already received what is called a “Technical Assistance Grant,” from the EPA. Wine clarified that the grant is “not money. They bring experts in to walk the city through the process. At this point the number of kiosks is not determined yet.”
The overall cost of the “phase one” system will total an estimated $1.5 million, which is cheap for public transportation systems. Wine explained that said amount would cover “300 yards of highway,” and said, “for three city buses, you could have 200 bicycles.”
Bike advocacy carries a lot of environmentally friendly lagniappe, but the bike share program’s universal selling point is its economic sustainability. Although the initial cost sounds substantial, the program will pay for itself in the long run. “No other type of public transportation will actually make money,” said Wine.
The first set of bike kiosks will be placed somewhere downtown. Wine explained that the “core” is established by determining “the biggest daytime population.” Once that location begins to make money, other bike share sets will be built in various locations across New Orleans.
Wine thanked the City of New Orleans for pedaling up to the plate. “The thing about this that’s so great is that it indicates that the The City is on board. They’re doing a really great job with this,” said Wine. The Director doesn’t know when the Bike Share program will go into effect. However, he said 2014 is a realistic estimate.