Good Works: B-Cycle Comes to Madison

There are 350 shinny new bicycles spinning around Madison. Renowned for its bike friendly culture and amenities Wisconsin’s capital city has introduced a new program to allow residents and visitors to share short rides around town on easily accessible two-wheeled transports. Called B-Cycle the initiative aims to provide a carbon-neutral alternative to an overloaded traffic grid. And at a price tag of $2 million local manufacturer Trek Bicycle is picking up the tab charging taxpayers only $1 per year.

Modeled after its program launched last year in Denver, Trek is bringing B-Cycle to Madison in order to demonstrate the viability of bike-sharing as mode of urban public transportation. Trek president John Burke said the new system, which launched in May, is also a way for his family business to give back to the community.

“My parents lived by the motto ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ And the community has been very good to Trek,” Burke said. “Bringing B-Cycling to the community is a great thing that Trek can do for the city of Madison.”

When the program was first proposed in December of 2010 the city would have subsidized operating costs of $100,000 per year. But in consideration of statewide financial difficulties due to budget shortfalls Trek agreed to provide the program as a gift.

“While not having to fork out a lot of money the city is being a great partner in making this happen,” Burke said. “It’s a beautiful mix because Madison is a great laboratory for Trek and the city gets a world-class bike-sharing system for free.”

With an initial investment of $1.4 million Trek will fund the program at a cost of $700,000 annually for five years. The local program will give the global bike distributor the opportunity to fine tune B-Cycle for development in other markets. Thoroughly vetted and tested in Denver with over 100,000 share transactions last year, the system already has a proven track record of success.

“The city council and the mayor have given their support to this venture based on that track record,” Parks Department superintendent Kevin Briski said. “Trek is a local business that has put their resources and backing and their brand into this product and are providing it to the city and its visitors at virtually no cost.”

Briski said B-Cycle will help to boost Madison’s robust system of bike resources. “This is an opportunity to see our city and move about without getting into a car and adding to those car trip miles,” he said. “ I see it as a significant enhancement to visitors and those in our community that don’t have bikes to get out on our trails and use them.”

A network of 35 B-Cycle bike-share kiosks allow riders to purchase a single day-use pass for $10 up to an annual subscription for $65.

“What you’ll be getting for that annual fee is an unlimited number of rides that are 30-minutes or less,” said B-Cycle Madison manger Brian Conger. “You’ll have access to 350 bikes and if you go over that 30-minute period, you’ll be charged a small fee for every half hour after that.”

Subscription users are issued an RFID equipped card for easy account access and each bike is outfitted with a GPS locator. Users can ride easily from point to point dropping off the bike at their final destination. One-way trips are possible and a bike need not be returned where it was picked up.

“This is really going to transform how Madison moves and how people experience our city,” Conger said. “Five years from now this is what people will remember about Madison. We’re going to give people the opportunity to visit many local businesses and attractions in a safe and fun way.”


This story originally ran in the June issue of the Capital Region Business Journal philanthropy feature “Good Works”


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I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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