Downtown bike-share program in the works

City of Charleston leaders are planning to launch a bike-share program here early next year, possibly similar to one in Washington, D.C., where bright red bikes are available for quick, short-term rental through Capital Bikeshare. The D.C. program, which has 2,500 bikes available at 300 stations, is one of at least a dozen bike-share programs nationwide.

Nearly 20 years after an initial, failed attempt, Charleston will again take the plunge on a bike-sharing program early next year that could be similar to one in the nation's capital.

The program likely will start with about 200 bikes at 20 stations around the peninsula south of the Crosstown, said Tim Keane, the city's planning director. People will be able to check out a bike at one station, then return it to any other station.

A committee of city officials has received three proposals from private companies interested in running the bike share, said City Councilman Rodney Williams, who is a member of the committee. The group on Thursday will hear presentations from each of those companies. It eventually will recommend one company to City Council for approval.

The companies must agree to cover the entire cost of the program, Williams said. None of the cost will be passed on to city taxpayers.

The city needs to find alternative ways for people to get around downtown, he said. "And world-class cities have bicycles."

Bike share programs have become popular in larger cities in recent years. Boston, Denver and Washington, D.C., currently have such programs.

Charleston restaurateur Kevin Condon launched an unsuccessful bike-share program in Charleston in 1996. Volunteers sprinkled dozens of yellow bicycles around downtown for people to use, and then leave behind for others. The bikes weren't locked and they quickly vanished from city streets.

But city leaders are willing to try again.

Keane said the program could be run similar to Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. That program has 2,500 bikes at 300 stations.

People can pay by the day, month or year, with an annual membership costing $75. They use a code or a check-out card to take a locked bike from a station, then they return it to any station.

The first 30 minutes of ride-time are free, but after that, charges are added to a person's credit card. The program is priced to encourage short-term use.

Williams said he tried the Capital Bikeshare program when he was in D.C. and it worked well.

Charleston has grown, he said, and if the city is going to continue to run smoothly, city leaders must identify other modes of transportation. "I think a bike share is a viable option," he said. "I think it has a lot of potential."

The College of Charleston launched a small bike-share program last fall with eight bikes. Students faculty and staff members could check out a bike for the day from the Stern Center.

Jen Jones, facilities coordinator for the college's Office of Sustainability, said the program was successful and it will be expanded to 16 bikes for the upcoming school year.

She hopes that it eventually will free up bike parking on campus. Now, many students bring bikes to school, but they don't use them very often. Some of them lock their bikes to racks for an entire semester but only use the bike a few times.

The Town of Mount Pleasant about a year ago considered launching a bike-share program, said Martine Wolf-Miller, the town's communications officer. But it first must put in place the infrastructure - such as building bike lanes - to make sure the program could operate safely.

Josh Delmas is a shop hand at Affordabike on upper King Street, which sells, repairs and rents bikes. He said he's not worried about the bike share program negatively affecting Affordabike.

People who rent from the store usually rent for an entire day or more, he said. And they can get services from employees such as the use of locks, lights and helmets and recommendations on great places to ride.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.