Metro officials are expanding the city’s bike-share program, but unlike the existing system that operates on greenways, riders will have to pay to take trips on bicycles from this second service.
Mayor Karl Dean hopped on a bike with an oversized basket Tuesday, and took a quick spin around the downtown public square to showcase one of 200 bicycles that will be available through the city’s Nashville B-cycle program, designed to accommodate short trips within a three-mile downtown radius.
“The idea is, if people can use these bikes — whether they’re Nashville residents or visitors to our city — to go destinations not too far off, they can then leave the bike at their destination,” Dean explained before he strapped on his helmet.
“They’ll be a charge for that, but it will be relatively minimal fee,” he added.
The B-cycle program, set to officially launch later this year, comes two years after the city launched its original bike share program  dubbed Nashville GreenBikes, setting up stations at Shelby Park and Riverfront Park before expanding to nine locations across the county. Free of charge, the program allows patrons to loan and return bikes on the same day.
Like Nashville GreenBikes — which has a ridership that peaks at approximately 400 rentals per month, but sometimes reaches as low as 100 — the latest bike-share program comes from a $7.5 million federal grant that Metro landed from the federal government three years ago.
But there’s a distinction: Bicycles accessible via the new B-cycle program will require an undetermined fee that riders must pay at automated kiosks, which officials are planning to place at 20 downtown-area bike stations. The idea is also a same-day rental and return policy.
“It’s really just to keep the system maintained and funded, and to generate some revenues to be able to ensure that the bikes are running and to ultimately expand,” said Alisa Haushalter, bureau director of the Metro Health Department, which is overseeing the project in conjunction with the Nashville Downtown Partnership.
The price tag isn’t set, but officials working on the project say cities with similar systems sometimes charge between $50 to $60 for yearly B-cycle passes. Chicago, Houston and Denver have comparable B-Cycle programs. The system originated in Waterloo, Wis.
In the years ahead, Haushalter said officials would begin exploring mechanisms to allow B-cycle participation from people who cannot afford the fee-based approach. “But, we’ll have to monitor first to see how the system goes,” she said.
“The GreenBikes are really promoted as recreational use,” Haushalter said, adding that the kiosk-style bikes are geared for personal transit. “They’re usually intended for short distance rides for a specific purpose like going to a meeting or going to a restaurant.”
Metro’s second dip into the bike-share model comes as Dean continues to be the face of NashVitality, a campaign aimed at promoting healthy, active lifestyles. Dollars for NashVitality are carved from the same federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant that has made Nashville’s bike-share system possible.
Metro Public Health Department Director Bill Paul noted the health benefits of the city’s bike share program. “The more people see bicycles in Nashville then the more bicycling will be done, the more physical activity, and it’s a healthy thing,” he said.
Metro officials and the Downtown Nashville Partnership will roll out the B-cycle system before the public three times this week.
Wednesday, Aug. 1, at Vanderbilt University, 21st Avenue South and Terrace Place; Thursday, Aug. 2, Five Points in East Nashville, corner of South 10th Street and Main Street; Friday, Aug. 3, Nashville Farmers’ Market, outdoor dining area on Seventh Avenue side.