If you’re working downtown and have a meeting a mile away, how would you get there?

You could walk for free, but that would take about 20 minutes and you’d probably be a sweaty mess. There’s TheBus, but that’s a 45-minute ordeal. You could take a taxi, but you’d have to find one first, and you’re starting to push $10 and 30 minutes.

You could be hip and use Uber, which might be faster (current wait for pickup at Aloha Tower: eight minutes) but has a minimum fare of $5 or more, and gets a bad rap for surge pricing and questionable business practices.

Or, you could step outside your office, hop on a bike, and pedal down the street for just a few bucks. That’s the vision of Bikeshare Hawaii, which is supported by the State of Hawaii, City and County of Honolulu, Ulupono Initiative, Hawaii Pacific University, and a number of private organizations, and whose mission is to reduce our reliance on cars.

Ben Trevino and Lori McCarney and ride their Bikeshare Hawaii bicycles near Iolani Palace.  7 jan 2015.photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ben Trevino and Lori McCarney of Bikeshare Hawaii ride some two-wheelers on loan from other bike-sharing programs near Iolani Palace on Wednesday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Our objective is to offer the cheapest and most convenient means of travel, next to walking,” said Lori McCarney, executive director of Bikeshare Hawaii, former banking executive, and avid cyclist and triathlete.

Bike-sharing has become a popular, if financially challenging, trend over the past few years with cities big and small, from New York to DC and Pittsburgh to Portland, having some sort of program. It’s becoming so popular that Next City recently declared 2014 “the year of the bike commuter.”

Hawaii offers some interesting perks for bike-sharing success, primarily our density and our year-round bike-riding weather. And, being late to the bike-sharing party has benefits, too, since most of the trial-and-error work has been done (and paid for) by other cities.

“What really drives bike-sharing is convenience. We want the bikes to be too convenient to ignore.” — Ben Trevino, president, Bikeshare Hawaii

At this point, you might be thinking, “I’m not a cyclist, so this isn’t for me.” Well, you’d be wrong.

“Our main target is the non-cyclist,” McCarney said. “If you’re a cyclist, you understand the benefits and you already have your own bike. We’re targeting people with cars, those who usually wouldn’t consider biking at all.”

And they’re hoping that you’ll use it more than once.

“We think that cycling can replace up to half of the car trips currently being driven downtown,” predicted Ben Trevino, president of Bikeshare Hawaii, former developer at Google and University of Hawaii, and commuting cyclist.

Success in the bike-sharing world means ubiquity, so there’s a need to have bikes nearly everywhere, making logistics and infrastructure (and costs) obvious challenges. Bikes also need to be where the demand is, but that demand can be dramatically different at noon than at 5 p.m., or when there’s rain or an event.

“What really drives bike-sharing is convenience,” said Trevino. “We want the bikes to be too convenient to ignore.”

High-Tech Rides

The team also mentioned how technology helps enable bike-sharing, with high-tech docking stations, mobile apps, and novel payment systems. There’s even talk of using a single payment card to cover TheBus, rail, and bike-sharing.

Although it has yet to decide on its technology, an entire tech industry has popped up to serve the needs of the bike-sharing services.

Smoove, headquartered in France, has been in business for almost 10 years. It offers everything from solar powered, RFID-enabled, credit-card capable kiosks to back-end “fleet management” software.

“Our objective is to offer the cheapest and most convenient means of travel, next to walking,” said Lori McCarney, executive director, Bikeshare Hawaii

SocialBicycles, located in New York City, builds bicycles with integrated GPS and wireless data connections that help operators track and manage their fleets, while enabling riders to use mobile apps to not only reserve bikes, but also share maps, miles traveled, CO2 reduced, calories burned, and money saved over driving.

The tech doesn’t come cheap, however. Connected docking stations can cost upwards of $50,000 each, and bicycles themselves generally cost over $1,000. Some operators, like Capital Bikeshare in Arlington, Virginia, help to offset costs by allowing businesses to “adopt a station” for $10,000 or more per year.

For the even geekier, many services offer free access to their data, compelling data nerds to create elaborate bike-sharing maps and even global bike-sharing visualizations.

And, in typical tech fashion, there have even been some acquisitions in the space, with the industry’s big dog, Alta Bicycle Share out of Portland, recently acquired by a New York firm.

More Than Just Point A to Point B

Beyond transportation, McCarney points to four additional benefits of bike sharing.

“First, there’s the environmental benefit because we’re getting people out of polluting cars. Second, there’s a health benefit from exercising instead of driving. Third, there’s an economic benefit from putting more people on the streets, in front of stores and shops, rather than just driving past them. Forth, there’s a social benefit from getting people to interact and talk with others on the street.”

But that’s not all.

“Another great economic point is that it costs about $10,000 per year to own and operate a car,” said Trevino. “If you eliminate your car, that money has to go somewhere, and it tends to stay close. Without a car, you can’t go to Target or Costco, so you have to buy in your neighborhood.”

“Hawaii is a great place to do bike sharing. It’s flat, there are 12 months of nice weather, we have a great mix of residents and visitors, there are a lot of residential areas combined with workplaces and schools and attractions.” — Ben Trevino, president, Bikeshare Hawaii

While Bikeshare Hawaii has yet to launch, its two-person team is currently looking for funding and planning its expansion throughout the state. To build support, it’ll be hosting and showing off two bicycles that are “vacationing” in Hawaii during January, one from Seattle’s Pronto Cycle Share and one from New York City’s Citi Bike program.

The public is invited to meet the bikes and keep up with the action via social media on Bikeshare Hawaii’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, while local groups can request a talk about bike-sharing from Bikeshare Hawaii.

“During our rollout, we’re first planning to cover the entire downtown area, from the aquarium to Chinatown, from H-1 and into UH Manoa,” McCartney explained. “We’ve already received support from the state and from Ulupono Initiative, and we’re looking for another $8 million. Our vision is to learn in Honolulu, but eventually be statewide.”

While $8 million might sound like a lot, Bikeshare Hawaii aims to have bike stations every 900 feet so you’ll see them almost everywhere and consider them regularly. It eventually wants about 2,000 bikes across 200 stations in Honolulu.

“Hawaii is a great place to do bike sharing,” said Trevino. “It’s flat, there are 12 months of nice weather, we have a great mix of residents and visitors, there are a lot of residential areas combined with workplaces and schools and attractions. Tourism also adds a lot of potential users, and adds a good mix of casual users who can pay a bit more to help subsidize the more frequent users.”

Bikeshare Hawaii hopes to start rolling out stations early next year.

Disclosure: Bikeshare Hawaii received funding from Ulupono Initiative, which was founded by Civil Beat’s CEO and publisher, Pierre Omidyar. 

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About the Author

  • Jason Rushin
    Jason Rushin has nearly 20 years of experience in software marketing, consulting, and engineering, and currently works as a marketing consultant for high tech clients, both locally and in Silicon Valley. Prior to relocating to Hawaii in 2010, he led marketing at several Silicon Valley software startups. Once in Hawaii, he launched and subsequently sold his own startup, and has been an active supporter of Hawaii’s small-but-growing startup ecosystem. Jason holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.