The nonprofit Bikeshare Hawaii has gotten no-cost access to city parking spots and sidewalk space since 2017 to rent out 1,300 Biki bikes in downtown Honolulu, but their free ride could end soon.

Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi is urging Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration to sign a lease that would make the program pay its “fair share,” according to a resolution advanced by a council committee this week.

“Now is an appropriate time because Biki started as a pilot project, but has become a monopoly,” Tsuneyoshi said.

Honolulu City Council Member Heidi Tsuneyoshi listen to public testimony.

Honolulu City Council Member Heidi Tsuneyoshi wants the Bikeshare program to pay to use public space for its Biki bikes.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The city and Bikeshare Hawaii entered into a grant agreement on June 30, 2015, and the service launched two years later. It was aided by private and public donors including $2 million from the state and the city to fund the placement of bikes at docking stations from Chinatown to Waikiki, according to the resolution.

The goal of the original contract was to “support Bikeshare Hawaii in the implementation of its initial phase,” but it was later extended in February 2016, August 2016, January 2017 and August 2018. The goal was modified to supporting operations as well as the launch.

“With the time extensions Biki received, it’s time to look at Biki paying for the public space they have been using for their program,” Tsuneyoshi said.

Users pay $15 or $25 for a monthly plan, $20 for 300 minutes or $3.50 for a single ride, plus a refundable $50 security fee. Biki also collects revenue from sponsorships from local businesses like American Savings Bank that receive ad space on the bikes and participants in its “Adopt-a-Biki” program that pay $1,000 to inscribe messages on the bike.

“The City does not share in any of the aforementioned revenues because the Contract, as amended, does not provide for the City to do so,” Tsuneyoshi’s resolution states.

Bikeshare Hawaii Executive Director Todd Boulanger said the organization’s public benefits outweigh its costs to the city.

“When citizens are saying we’re not paying our fair share, we actually are, but people don’t know about it,” he said. “Whatever parking revenue is lost from 40 spots, the city is getting 1.2 million bicycle trips, healthier citizens and freeing up roadway space and parking spaces from people who aren’t driving anymore.” 

Bikeshare completed $454,800 of its own fundraising to obtain federal match dollars to buy equipment and expand its services in 2017. In other cities where bikeshare programs are run by the local government, grant writing must be done by city employees, which costs time and money, Boulanger said. Biki also pays general excise taxes and a $15 city license fee for each bike.

Promoting bike riding also relieves the island’s need for parking for major events, Boulanger said. For massive gatherings like the Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii and July 4 festivities, Biki accommodated 600 riders per event with bike valet stations.

Imagine if the parks department had to build a parking lot for 600 drivers,” Boulanger said. “That would be a lot of green space turned to pavement.” 

Todd Boulanger is the executive director of Bikeshare Hawaii.

Kelsey Colpitts of Biki

Bikeshare Hawaii contracts with a private, for-profit company called Secure Bike Share Hawaii which initially supplied bikes and docking stations and manages day-to-day operations.

Tsuneyoshi wants Bikeshare Hawaii to pay “reasonable compensation per square foot” for use of city property. Her resolution also requests the director of transportation services to provide an annual report detailing agreements with Bikeshare Hawaii.

Her resolution comes as the council considers two proposed ordinances introduced by council chair Ikaika Anderson that would create a permitting and regulatory structure for “micromobility” vehicles like dockless bikes or electric scooters and skateboards.

Bill 44, introduced at the request of the department of transportation services, would establish a permitting system that requires $2 million general liability insurance, $1 million commercial auto insurance and worker’s compensation insurance as required by law. Permitted businesses would be subject to data reporting and other requirements. Operators would pay a $500 application fee, a $30 annual registration fee and various parking fees. For metered stalls, companies would pay a quarter of the annual maximum daily charge.

Bill 43 would limit the number of “shared mobility device” permits the city could issue in a year. It would also impose annual fees for reserving city property, but the bill does not specify how much those would be.

“We want to make sure that whatever comes up in the future, that we’re ready to handle that,” said Department of Transportation Services Deputy Director Jon Nouchi, who spoke in support of Bill 44.

Anderson’s legislation follows the failed introduction of Lime rental scooters in Honolulu last year. The company, which offered dockless electric scooters, suspended operations after the city impounded the “e-scooters” as illegal mopeds and threatened fines and jail time.

Nouchi said the structure established under Bill 44 would apply to Bikeshare Hawaii and address Tsuneyoshi’s concerns.

“We do point to Bill 44 as a means to accept and handle the demand for these types of services and make sure the city is adequately compensated for their use in the future,” he said.

Boulanger said he looks forward to working with the city on a path forward. 

“We just ask that the city be careful to not throw the Biki out with the bathwater with these fees,” he said.

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