Schenectady’s wobbly bike share deal

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update (May 14, 2019): Yesterday evening, May 13, 2019, the Schenectady City Council voted 6-1, with only Vince Riggi (Ind.) in opposition, to accept the Memorandum of Understanding with CDTA discussed below, to enter into a three-year contract with the CYCLE! Bike Share system, with a yearly payment of $25,000. City Engineer Chris Wallin was not in attendance and had not provided them with any of the information he had promised about Schenectady’s CYCLE! data, and none of the questions posed below were answered. Nonetheless, Council member John Polimeni asserted that “the benefits far exceed the costs” of this MOU. Other members admitted ridership needs to increase and hoped it would. Marion Porterfield said that some people in her neighborhood cannot afford to have bikes, so they need the program. (She did not suggest how they could instead afford $5 per hour or a season pass to CYCLE!) Riggi pointed out that there simply was not enough information for him to agree to the MOU.

BikeShareRiversidePkThe only member of the public to speak on the Resolution was David Giacalone, the editor of this website. He said he was often disappointed by how little information this Council demanded before making a decision, and there was not enough now to justify three more years in CYCLE! The information available made it clear the public is not enthusiastic in Schenectady for Bike Share, and that is probably why CDTA was not supplying more data. Giacalone suggested that the Council could better meet the goals of better health and less vehicle congestion by using the $25,000 to purchase 250 bicycles each year that would be distributed by various groups to those most likely to use them. He also said voters should take note of who thinks there have enough information to make a thoughtful decision.

WAMCLogo 

update (May 16, 2019): See Dave Lucas’ piece on WAMC’s Midday Magazine, “Schenectady Bike Share Use Lags Behind Other Capital Region Arms” (May 16, 2019).

 

 

ORIGINAL POSTING

A Gazette article appearing online this evening, Friday May 10, 2019, delves a little deeper than previous reports on the CDTA CYCLE! bike share program and Schenectady’s role. See “Schenectady asked to chip in $75K for bike-sharing program: City has lowest ridership of four cities” (by Pete DeMola, May 10, 2019).  CDTA is asking for $25,000 per year for three years. The Gazette points out that:

Schenectady, home to 13 hubs with nearly 50 bikes, ranks at the bottom of the four-city pack when it comes to total rides over the program’s tenure.

By the close of the second season last year, the city notched 1,370 rides, according to CDTA, or 6 percent of total ridership.

That is 1370 rides for the 8-month season in 2018, which amounts to 171 rides per month starting at a Schenectady “hub” or station (averaging 13 rides per station a month), and 3.5 rides per bike located in Schenectady. Reporter DeMola also notes that “The three-year funding motion passed out of City Development & Planning Committee and heads to the City Council for a full vote on Monday.” That approval came despite a lack of important information, including:

  1. how many people in Schenectady have actually used the program; number of rides only can suggest the maximum users
  2. how many miles were clocked by Schenectady riders
  3. type of usage: are Schenectady riders predominantly commuters (as in Albany) or recreational (as in Saratoga)
  4. what were the figures for each of the 13 stations

This past week, I sent the annotated image of a bike-share bicycle at the top of this posting to several people on the Council and to City Engineer Chris Wallin. My info-image gives stats using a per-year $25,000 payment by the City. The payments would equal over $500 per month for each bike in Schenectady. Using the 1370 riders in 2018, that also means the City is paying over $18 for every ride taken in Schenectady, with riders paying at most $5 per hour. [Note, that CDTA talks of having increased riders in Schenectady in 2019, based on free rides for Union College students and City Hall employees.]

  • the average Schenectady “hub” had one ride every-other day during the 8-month 2018 season.

complaintbillNot only did CDTA not send a representative to present data or answer questions at Monday’s City Council Committees meeting, they apparently did not equip City Engineer Wallin with the necessary information. Wallin, when questioned by Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, said he would let them know how much the three other cities would be paying and the actual ridership in Schenectady. I do not know if he has done that yet. He has not responded to my email asking for such information.

 However, without being asked, Engineer Wallin made the false statement that “Proportionate to our population, we are doing well.” I know City Hall bends over backwards to present favored programs and projects in a positive light, but Schenectady has well over 25% of the population of the four participating cities, and less than 6% of total ridership is not “doing well.” In addition, Chris started by saying there are benefits to the City from this agreement, but then listed only “City workers will ride for free.”

As it has always done, using its huckster persona and touting meeting its own goals, the  CDTA “CYCLE!” bike-share program gave a litany of the benefits from the Bike Share program for the City and its residents. However, pluses such as health benefits and the reduction in vehicle congestion are rather fanciful, if there are very few people in Schenectady using the program.

  • Now that I have seen the released portion of the Schenectady data, I understand just why CDTA has not bothered to respond at all to either of my requests, left on their website form, for the Schenectady figures.
They may feel that it is “only $25,000 per year,” but I believe City Council members and the Mayor should at least negotiate for a better deal. There were only 550 Schenectady rides in the first Season of Bike Share, and two-thirds of them were at one hub. Nonetheless, CDTA went from 7 to 13 “hubs” in Schenectady and increased to “nearly 50” bikes. If Schenectady residents and visitors are not very interested in the Bike Share program, why have 13 stations, especially since some of them apparently have almost no ridership.

sample of WalMart bikes

Few Stations, Lower Fee? For instance, why not go back to 7 stations and fewer bikes, with the City paying perhaps $13,000 to help subsidize the system? Image how many bikes the City could buy outright at retail or wholesale with the $12,000 a year saved, and then use various programs to distribute the bikes to people who would really use them? E.g., have nonprofits, schools or community groups suggest contests or incentives with criteria for giving away some of those bike. Or, expand bike clinics around town.

Have Our Own Bike Share Plan? Moreover, a close cost-benefit analysis, with a realistic projection of types of users and uses, might suggest that Schenectady can do better on its own.

Riverside Park hub

We do and should have a commitment to a more bike-friendly City. In fact, our Master Plan, Bike Schenectady, has a discussion of a bike-share program limited to Schenectady itself. See Appendix C of the Appendix document (at pp. 108-113). The discussion there seems to suggest a far better understanding of our local situation, than the cookie-cutter, constant-expansion approach of CYCLE!. For example, CYCLE! put a station at Union College (Union Street at Nott Terrace), that got virtually no usage in 2017 and was removed in 2018, because Union already had its own free bike program.

Also, they placed a station on the most expensive land and masonry at Riverside Park, its Overlook [see photo at left], without taking into account that the location was meant for quiet and solitude, and that Schenectady’s Zoning Ordinance still bans the use of bikes on any park pedestrian paths, if you are over 10 or not disabled. Bike Schenectady, on the other hand, did not propose a bike share station in Riverside Park for either the initial or expanded version of the program. Click on the following Map of proposed bike share stations in the Bike Schenectady Master Plan:

bikeschdy-bikesharesystemmap

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There is no rush in deciding on the CDTA MOU proposal. CDTA will not run out of CYCLE! money. Why not, especially in an election year, gather needed information and actually discuss the issues? Thoughtful, informative reflection. Nice campaign motto and leadership goal, don’t you thing.
  •  In considering the extent of Schenectady’s participation in Bike Share, another factor to take into account should be the opinion of many residents that the stations are not the least bit attractive and seem to be cluttering or hijacking important locations along our streets.
  • See my posting in July 2017, asking “Is bike-share our newest sacred cow?” discussing these and other issues, with photos of bike share locations in Schenectady.
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