Schenectady Bike Share Use Lags Behind Other Capital Region Arms

May 16, 2019

The Capital Region’s bike-share program is in its third season. But there are some questions being raised about the programs effectiveness in one area city.

CDTA's Director of Corporate Communications Jamie Watson says the CDPHP Cycle! bike share program has been well received and boasts a growing ridership.  "We're back in our four core cities which are Schenectady, Albany, Troy and Saratoga, and we have added the city of Cohoes to the mix this year as well."

But bike share use has remained low in Schenectady. City activist David Giacalone questions the wisdom of the city council's Monday night vote to enter into a three-year contract with the Bike Share system, which carries an annual payment of $25,000 from the city into the program.   "The average bike station in Schenectady had one ride every other day for the eight months of the 2018 season. $520 a bike per year, and the average bike is only used three times a month. That seems like a lot of money."

Official figures for 2018 show 1,370 bike share rides taken in Schenectady, or 6 percent of total ridership. That’s in comparison with over 15,000 in Albany, nearly 3,400 in Saratoga Springs and 2,400 in Troy.

Giacalone points out  "6 percent of the rides when we're 25, 26 percent of the population, is not 'doing well.’"

Vince Riggi, an independent, was the lone councilor voting against the contract.   "A couple of council people before I even asked a question at committee, a week ago at committee, they asked some questions about how its been working out, how many bikes have been rented, how far did people go, are they going from station to station, and the city engineer was there, nobody from CDTA, only the city engineer, who had no answers for us. So I didn't feel comfortable in voting for something committing $75,000 of taxpayer money over three years to something that we didn't really know anything about as far as how it's working out in Schenectady, so that's why I voted no."

CDTA's Watson told WAMC the company's mobility manager, who would normally provide statistics, had "left for another opportunity."

Giacalone and Riggi expressed interest in knowing how CDTA classed Schenectady bike riders. Albany's were labeled "commuter" while Saratoga's were "recreational." Giacalone:   "There's very little chance that people are commuting from Schenectady to Albany, or from Schenectady to Saratoga. The people who are capable of doing that physically have their own bikes."

Watson believes Electric City bikers are "a little bit of both:" commuter and recreational.   "But mainly they are purposeful trips. So people are taking bikes to go perhaps to the drugstore, they're taking them to go a grocery store or a bodega, something like that. They are purposeful trips. They're getting on the bike to go run an errand, and then return the bike."

Riggi would favor trimming the payments to CDTA, using some of the funding for a city-sponsored bike initiative.   "Maybe we could take $10,000 and buy a lotta bikes with $10,000, $100 bikes, you can buy it for a hundred bucks, you see it all the time at Walmart's and what-not. Buy a bunch of bikes and maybe give it to Electric City Bike Rescue and let them use the program to give them out to the needy, the less fortunate that can't afford their own bicycles, I'd like to see that."

Giacalone would like to see existing bike stations reviewed and some possibly relocated.   "You went from seven stations to 13 despite the fact there were only 550 rides in 2017, and in fact, in 2017 you told us that two-thirds of those rides were at one station, so there's probably stations where there's almost no use at all."

Watson counters CDTA is open to new ideas, continually looking for ways to improve the program.  "It's a work in progress. We launched in 2017 and now that we have a couple of years under our belt we're able to look at the data collected, and as mentioned the rack locations, where the bikes are and there are opportunities to be able to tweak it."

Watson notes CDTA is taking steps to boost ridership , including an agreement with Union College giving students free rides, along with exploring adding stations in Scotia and Niskayuna in Schenectady County.