Checking out the new CDPHP Cycle bike share

CDTA bike share Washington Park

The new bike share backed by CDTA -- CDPHP Cycle -- launched Thursday. You can now sign up for an account and check out a bike from one of the stations in the Capital Region's four core cities.

Here are details about how it works, and a few thoughts after trying it out.

The basics

bike share bikes at Madison and Western

We've covered a lot of this already, so we'll quickly recap.

+ The bike share includes 160 bikes spread across 41 stations in Albany, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, and Troy.

+ The coverage areas for the bike share are currently mostly focused on the downtown areas of these cities.

+ It's $5 per hour to use a bike, plus a $2 "out of hub" fee (you get $1 back if re-dock the bike at one of the stations). A credit card is required to take out a bike. There are also membership plans that allow you save some money by buying bike time in bulk.

+ The bikes and system to operate the program are from a company called Social Bicycles. It runs bike shares in a bunch of cities around the country.

+ The bike share will be active until November 30 of this year (depending on snow), and then will be reactivated again next spring.

"This year is really about getting people comfortable and acquainted with the program," said Lauren Bailey, who's been coordinating the program for CDTA. "And then next year when we roll out the full system, we'll have a better idea, especially of where people are riding to, what they're really using the bikes for, and what time of day they're using them. So when we roll out the full system next year we can make sure we're not throwing darts at a board."

What's it like to use the bike share?

CDTA bike share app screenshots
Screenshots from the app, which has info about bike availability.

We tried it out Thursday afternoon and it was relatively easy. Signing up for an account via the CDPHP Cycle app only took a minute or two. And checking out a bike at the Washington Park station went smoothly -- you punch in your account number, followed by your PIN, and the bike's u-lock unlocks from the rack. (You store the lock on the bike in a holder.)

bike share check out screen

The three-speed bikes are definitely cruisers. The seat was comfy. The bike handled bumps and uneven pavement well. And the brakes were really nice. But it's heavy, there's no other way to put it. This isn't the sort of bike on which you'll be darting around from place to place or zipping up hills.

The heft of the bike is by design. They're built to handle a lot of use (and abuse), especially from people who maybe are not otherwise accustomed to riding a bike. It's fair to say the bikes are more about comfort and safety than speed. If you regularly ride something like a road bike or a hybrid, you'll notice the difference.

We took a ride up Madison Ave from Washington Park to the station at Madison and Western on the edge of the Albany coverage area. Docking the bike was easy -- just line up the bike with the rack and reconnect the u-lock.

Previous concerns

We've written about the bike share a bunch as it's developed over the last year or so, and along the way people have had some thoughtful concerns about the system. At Thursday's launch we took up some of these concerns with Lauren Bailey.

Compact coverage areas
When the maps of the coverage areas debuted, one of the frequent criticisms was that zones were too small and were focused on downtowns.

Bailey acknowledged the current coverage area is "tight," smaller than what CDTA would like. But the experience of bike shares in other cities suggests most people will be using the bikes for short trips -- less than three miles and/or less than 20 minutes. If the stations are spread out too far, people don't use the bikes because they don't want to travel the distance.

She said one of the goals for next year is take the data gathered from this summer and help map out how the service can be expanded farther into neighborhoods. And she said CDTA is hopeful it might be able identify locations where bikes will be able to provide service for people not currently well covered by buses.

bike share distance traveled screen

Another common concern has been about cost and access for people with low incomes, especially since the system requires a credit card.

"My winter project is sorting out low-income options for folks so we can bring parity to the system," Bailey said. "It's very frustrating because this is a slam dunk for areas that are underserved by bus systems or things like that, but having a credit card is a barrier. And we want to find a way to fix that."

She said CDTA's Navigator fare card could be a way to make progress on this problem. The cards don't currently work with the bike share, but both they and the on-board bike tech have the necessary RFID chips to talk with each other. CDTA is currently working on getting the two systems to work together, with the eventual goal that people will be able to pay for a bike via money from their Navigator cards.

A few other things

bike share near Albany Med

Transportation options
It's pretty clear CDTA has been pushing in recent years to evolve itself beyond "just" a bus org into something more like a platform for transportation options. The bike share is a part of that push.

"We are promoting more choices," Carm Basile, CDTA's executive director told the crowd at Thursday's launch. "Think of a day when you might ride your bike to a bus, take a bus to your destination, and take Uber home. That's the way this should go."

Another thing to keep an eye on is the taxi system regionalization that CDTA's been working on. Speculating a little bit, it's not hard to see a future in which the Navigator card could theoretically serve as a common method of payment for a bus ride, a bike ride, or a taxi ride.

bike share rack Madison Ave road diet

More bike infrastructure
We've said this before, and we'll say it again: One bike lane is good. But a network of bike lanes and other bike infrastructure is way better.

Research in other cities has found that building out improved, and more extensive, bike infrastructure can lead to big increases in both how often people bike, types of people who bike, and how safe they are when they do so. It's not enough to have one bike lane here, and another maybe over there. It's about building a web across the city.

If the Capital Region is going to be a place where people truly have alternative transportation options, it's going to take infrastructure. This is especially true if the pool of people using bikes is going to widen. There's gotta be space for people of a range of abilities to both be safe and feel safe while riding. And the network has to connect them to places in a useful way.

+ Here's how much it will cost to use one of the upcoming bike share bikes
+ Here are the station locations for the bike share starting later this summer
+ A few more details about the upcoming CDTA bike share
+ Albany's sister city bike paradise

CDTA and CDPHP advertise on AOA.


Can't wait to give it a try!

I tried to sign up under a "student" account, but it said that an email wasn't valid for the student rate, anyone have any insight into what institutions have agreements for a student rate?

What happens if you reach your destination and the station is full with no spaces available to dock the bike you rented? Can you lock it up near the station without the extra charge? I assume they would know if a station was full at any given time so hopefully they wouldn't charge extra in that situation.

I saw bikes being deployed in Troy on Thursday. Looks like I'll take my first ride this weekend!

I'm so glad to see CDTA diversifying. I'm excited about the Bus Rapid Transit River Corridor which is in the works. They're spot-on about using different modes of transport together. I've been taking the bus on my way to places and Uber on the way back as a compromise between cost and speed.

@Dave - yeah, would be nice to see that spelled out. Other models I have seen provide a mechanism to notify the service or extend the time to get to another hub at no additional charge. The info on the website in general is a bit lacking. E.g., how are the annual and 2-year plans measured? Is it calendar year or running time? Not interested in starting an annual membership in august if it's only good for 2017. I'm submitting inquiries on both of these items.

Per email response, there do not appear to be any special accommodations if you try to return to a hub that is already full:

"Thank you for your email. An annual membership covers one year from the date of purchase. If you need to lock a bike out of a hub, but still within the system area, there is a $2 out of hub fee assessed to your account. You do not need to contact us about locking the bike out of the hub, we will know it's location. To help you avoid out of hub fees, we recommend downloading our app. With it, you can view the hub space availability at your destination prior to the start of your trip. If you have any additional question, please let us know."

Hi everyone. I followed up with CDTA via email for answers to some of the questions people have been asking above. From Lauren Bailey:

+ What should people do if they want to lock a bike at a hub that's already full?

"The hubs are geofenced and should be able to accommodate a bicycle being locked up nearby to an existing bike rack or other lockable street furniture. That being said, if there is an issue I encourage customers to take a photo of the full rack and contact customer service if they are charged the extra $2 fee."

+ How can people qualify for the student plan?

"You must enter a valid .edu email address. Social Bicycles has a list of all the local universities to validate the email address. If there is an issue, please do call customer service or send us a message."

+ Are the 1- and 2-year plans for calendar years or for number of days? For example, if a person gets a 1-year plan right now, will it only apply through the end of 2017, or will it run until July of 2018?

"The annual plan runs for the brief 2017 riding season and will expire at the end. There will be a new option for the 2018 riding season. That being said, for the next few days we are still offering Founding Memberships which gives full access for 2017 and 2018 for $105. Don't pay again until 2019!"

uhhhh...greg and I clearly received conflicting information...

I just signed up as a founding member! Really happy that bike share has come to Albany!

Why do some of the photos show helmets? Were they placed there for the photo-op? I have not seen any helmets in the field.

Saw a lot of people using the bikes this weekend, probably out of curiosity more than anything, but hopefully it's a good sign. Would love to hear impressions from riders.

On the website, they say you should always wear a helmet and I agree.
I'm considering signing up for this for the convenience-- I have a bike that I use for my longer commute and weekend rides, but if I find myself somewhere without the bike, but near one of the hubs, it would be really nice to have as an option... but I won't have my helmet with me.
I don't particularly want to share helmet sweat with anyone so I don't have a good solution to this and will probably just ride without a helmet in those situations.

One of these popped up around the corner from me a week or two ago. I really don't understand why people would pay for a bike rental when you can go buy a bike for just a few dollars at a garage sale, at the APD bike auctions, or on Craigslist. Seems wasteful to me.

@Yerdok, because a lot of people don't want to store a bike in their apartment, or don't have outdoor space to store it. Locking/or storing bike at an office can be burdensome as well. Its primarily designed for people to use for functional trips, like commuting or for errands. It could be used for a leisure ride, but its not designed for that.

I used it for the first time on Friday and loved it! I used it to and from work and then used it to ride to a bus and go to Troy, and then used a bike in Troy to get to my final destination.

I catch my bus at St. Peter’s and it appears that folks are using them to commute to work, considering that there isn’t a bike hub for at least half a mile, for I’ve seen two or three bikes latched up the hospital bike rack the past two days . Taking a quick peep at the map (Tuesday, 8am), it appears that slightly more than half the hubs have more than half the bikes out in circulation, giving me the idea that things are working out well. I’m still curious how often they are being used for commuting vs. recreation…for 8am on a Tuesday gives me the perception that they are being used to get to work or run errands. It also looks like folks uptown are using them to get downtown, for most uptown hubs are near 0 capacity, while the downtown hubs are almost full. I was thinking it may go the other way, with tourists or day trippers using them to have fun, so it will be interesting to see what the long term data paints as the ultimate picture.

"It also looks like folks uptown are using them to get downtown, for most uptown hubs are near 0 capacity, while the downtown hubs are almost full."

I have a feeling we're going to see Albany geography come into play here as well. These bikes are heavy and only three speeds, so I would expect many to cruise downhill toward the river and not make the return trip.

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