New Orleans’ public bicycle system – locally known as Blue Bikes – are going electric in January. The current pedal bicycles will be replaced with electric bicycles that can go up to 20 mph – but riders who use the system will need to prepare to pay more.
Currently, the pedal bikes cost around 10 cents per minute of rental. According to Blue Bikes General Manager Geoff Coats, the electric bikes will cost 25 cents per minute. Monthly users who pay $20 per month currently will have their price bumped up to $30 per month. However, the low-income pricing of $20 annually for riders who receive public assistance for health care or food will remain the same.
Unfortunately for students, Blue Bikes will cancel the university program, which previously offered a $10 monthly rate for students who use the system.
According to Coats, the goal of these changes is to provide a faster, more convenient, and less physically challenging way for riders to get around the city. “I am thrilled that all of our dedicated riders will soon experience the benefits of e-bikes – getting across town faster without breaking a sweat,” he said.
In addition, Blue Bikes will be adding 200 more bicycles to the program, bringing the number of bikes to 900, and expanding service in Broadmoor, Carrollton, Central City, Gert Town, the 7th Ward, Riverbend, Uptown, and the West Bank.
The e-bikes will be provided in cooperation with JUMP, which was acquired by rideshare giant Uber in 2018. This means that residents will be able to rent an electric bike through their Uber app once the program begins in late January.
The electric bikes will offer three speeds. In first gear, riders will exert more effort. At higher gears, the bike’s motor kicks in, allowing riders to go faster with less effort. According to Coats, most people are surprised at how similar the JUMP Blue Bikes are the older Blue Bikes. “They think it’s very different, but once they get on, they’re like, ‘Oh. This is just like riding a bike,'” he said.
“While everyone rides for different reasons, the system mirrors our city, and bikes are located in a growing number of neighborhoods to meet different needs – from City Park to the CBD to the French Quarter to Central City,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. “In 2020, we look forward to bringing more, upgraded bikes, to deliver this new transportation option to more of our residents.”
According to the Mayor’s office, JUMP has seen their electric bikes nearly double the use of the bike share system compared to pedal-only bikes. In addition, JUMP electric bike trips are 200-300 percent longer on average than traditional bike share trips.
“With more modes of transportation in one place at their fingertips, it becomes even easier to get around without a car,” Cantrell said in a press release.
Fewer cars on the road mean safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists alike – something New Orleans is increasingly concerned about. According to New Orleans City Councilmember Jared Brossett, in 2018, data showed a 43 percent increase in the number of pedestrian deaths across the state of Louisiana, with New Orleans listed as a ranking leader for the number of pedestrian-involved crashes and injuries. Dozens of bicyclists and pedestrians die on the road in New Orleans every year.
In May, the City of New Orleans committed to building up to 75 miles of protected bike lanes over the next two years. In addition to the new bikeways, new crosswalks will be installed at particularly dangerous intersections. According to Bike Easy’s Robert Henig Bell, these initiatives when combined with the expanded public transportation options like the JUMP Blue Bikes and additional RTA offerings, New Orleans has the potential to become the most walkable and bikeable city in the country.
“With just a slight shift in priorities,” Bell said in a piece published by the New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune, “we can safely and efficiently share our roads, by making sure people biking, people walking, and people driving each know where they’re supposed to be on the road. Like that high ground between the river and the lake where this city was founded 300 years ago, New Orleans is well-positioned to become America’s premier city for biking and walking.”
That being said, some wonder how the expansion of the Blue Bikes will affect New Orleans’ local bike shops. In October 2018, Big Easy Magazine published a piece by Cassady Cooper – the owner of the now-closed A Bicycle Named Desire bike rental and tour company that was located in the Marigny. “I began my time in the bicycle industry of New Orleans back in 2010 with Confederacy of Cruisers, the very first bike tour company in the city,” Cooper said.
“Sadly, this city doesn’t always reciprocate the love you give. We paid taxes, employed locals, and supported other local businesses – including the Neighborhood Story Project – while the city decided to subsidize an out-of-state corporation owned by Uber. Did Blue Bikes really need free public space and a huge publicity campaign to succeed?”
Jenn Bentley is a freelance writer whose work has also been featured in publications such as Wander N.O. More, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_