Biki is the name of brand that the nonprofit Bikeshare Hawaii decided on for its launch of a Honolulu bike-sharing system. They want it to connote “wiki,” which is Hawaiian for quick.

As they expand to other areas or islands, the plan is to name each system something distinct, but the umbrella organization will always be Bikeshare Hawaii.

Over the past few weeks Biki bikeshare stations have been popping up across Honolulu to equal measures of delight and chagrin from urban residents.

But why all the fuss about a system locals won’t even use?

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

If you want to take Bikeshare on a regular basis as part of your commute or for weekend joyriding, your best value option is a $15 monthly pass.

At first glance this looks like a good deal; however, who is going to shell out $180 a year to borrow a bike when they could own one for half that?

In San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C., the cost of a year’s worth of unlimited bikeshare rides clocks in at less than $90.

So why are Honolulu residents getting a raw deal?

Low-Income Earners, Residents Left Out

In an interview with Hawaii Business Magazine this past January, the CEO of Bikeshare Hawaii, Lori McCarney, boasted, “unlike other cities, we have all five factors that make for a successful bike share system” — good weather, flat terrain, urban density, government support and lots of tourists.

It could also be profitable.

The Honolulu Bikeshare Organizational Study released by the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting anticipates up to $1.2 million in profit for Bikeshare Hawaii over its first year in operation with that figure rising to $2.6 million in year two.

The Bikeshare program locally comes as bikeshare systems across the world charge higher prices for day and week passes geared at tourists in order to offer affordable annual and low-income passes to residents.

Since public money is being used to encourage bike-sharing, keeping alive the possibility of private support, the least Bikeshare Hawaii could do is repay locals with affordable prices.

As tourists are expected to make up 70-90 percent of all Biki users, Bikeshare Hawaii has the potential to become one of the most profitable systems in existence. And yet, its pricing for residents makes it the most expensive in the country and the world.

In 2015 the City and County of Honolulu and the Hawaii Department of Health contributed $1 million each to Bikeshare Hawaii to launch the nonprofit in the hopes that Biki would make our capital a greener, healthier and less congested place to live.

Such a large investment of public money demands that we ask tough questions of Bikeshare Hawaii’s value to locals: Are the proposed prices fair? Is $180 a year the best deal it can offer residents? If bikeshare isn’t affordable for locals, did we spend $2 million in tax dollars on bikes for tourists?

Since public money is being used to encourage bike-sharing, keeping alive the possibility of private support, the least Bikeshare Hawaii could do is repay locals with affordable prices.

McCarney pushed for the unprecedented idea of paying by the minute over the traditional model of daily, weekly, monthly and annual passes used in nearly all other cities.

The decision not to include an annual pass for residents goes against the recommendations of the DPP Organizational Study as well as a pricing study Bikeshare Hawaii commissioned from the University of Hawaii’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, both of which recommended a $75 annual pass.

Honolulu Deserves Better

Under the current pricing, buying twelve $15 monthly passes represents the “best value” option for locals — an annual cost $105 higher than what the two studies put forward.

If anyone deserves a deal on bikeshare, it’s Honolulu’s residents. Our city ranks 107th out of 113 American cities in terms of purchasing power — how far a dollar gets you — due to lower salaries and a higher cost of living compared to the mainland. Yet Biki’s prices are set to be the highest in the country and the world.

Bikeshare Hawaii’s pricing may simply feel unacceptable to locals who will be expected to pay $180 a year for unlimited 30 minute rides or $300 a year for unlimited 45-minute rides. 

Bikeshare Hawaii owes Oahu residents a better deal, and with what may become the most profitable system in the world, they can afford to offer that. Biki should follow the model of leading bikeshare systems on the mainland and offer an annual pass — set at $75 as the studies recommend. 

They must also introduce a special pass for low-income users. Boston, New York City, the Bay Area and Chicago all offer $5 annual passes for low-income residents, and Washington, D.C., even gives out low-income annual memberships for free. 

Making the system affordable for locals is in Bikeshare Hawaii’s own best interest: Plenty of residents will be frustrated — if not infuriated — by the thousands of tourists biking around the city oblivious to our traffic laws.

Editor’s note: Bikeshare Hawaii is currently supported by Ulupono Initiative, which is funded by Pierre Omidyar, the publisher of Honolulu Civil Beat.

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