Like Water, Nashville’s Shared Bikes Tend To Flow Downhill

With dozens of bikes in circulation among some 20 kiosks around town, the system is in constant flux, so workers balance the supply using both a truck (above) and a bike rigged with a trailer to pull other B-Cycles behind it. Credit Daniel Potter WPLN

With dozens of bikes in circulation among some 20 kiosks around town, the system is in constant flux, so workers balance the supply using both a truck (above) and a bike rigged with a trailer to pull other B-Cycles behind it. Credit Daniel Potter / WPLN

Since Nashville’s bike-share program started six months ago, thousands of people have checked out bikes for short rides – many of them one-way trips downhill, as it turns out.  So, almost like a ski lift, someone with a truck hauls those bikes back up, to keep the system balanced.

Nashville B-Cycle has about 20 kiosks around the city, and you don’t have to return a bike to the same spot where you checked it out.  They’re all on a network, so from an iPad Jonathan Rodgers can see when one kiosk runs low, or another is almost full.

“A lot of what people like to do is, obviously, ride a bike down hill, because you just hop on it and you ride.  So we spend a lot of time going downhill picking up bikes, taking them back uphill, going downhill picking up bikes, taking them back uphill…”

Nashville B-Cycle head mechanic Eric Magas shows the system's inventory, so he knows when kiosks are close to empty or overflowing. Credit WPLN / Daniel Potter

Nashville B-Cycle head mechanic Eric Magas monitors the system’s inventory, so he knows when kiosks are close to empty or overflowing. Credit WPLN / Daniel Potter

Sometimes it’s as if the B-Cycle program’s red cruisers are flowing like water to lower elevations.  The rack by the roundabout near Music Row, at the top of a hill, chronically runs low.  And the rack at the foot of Broadway, right by the river, tends to fill up, as downtown commuters depart on the Music City Star.

Rodgers points out there are other factors – big sports events and concerts, for instance.  He notes the east bank is a popular spot for free parking, so people headed downtown may leave their cars there and take a bike to cross the river on the pedestrian bridge.

That said, other cities with bike-shares have noticed similar downhill trends.  And Mayor Karl Dean has taken note:

“I have one guy who goes to meetings all the time at the Chamber [of Commerce], gets a bike out in front of the courthouse, rides downhill to the Chamber, puts it in there, and then avoids the ride back uphill – walks back.”

“But it’s a good first step,” Dean adds.

The bikes’ GPS systems track riders’ journeys and calculates how many calories they’ve burned, for a total close to 3.5 million since the program began.


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