Episode #64: Jason Barron of Red Bike

A Cincy Red Bike stationOn the 64th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, TravisRandy, and John are joined by Jason Barron, the Executive Director of Red Bike.

We discuss how the first two years of Cincinnati’s bike share program have gone, what tweaks have been made during that time, and where the system is going next. We also discuss Red Bike’s challenges in neighborhoods that are hillier and not as bike-friendly as Downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine.

Is Cincy RedBike America’s Most Financially Successful Bike-Share System?

RedBike Monthly Ridership Totals

RedBike Monthly Ridership Totals

Since launching nearly two years ago, RedBike has been embraced by the region in a way even the bike-share system’s early proponents had not imagined.

When RedBike opened to the public on September 15, 2014 it included 29 stations, but has since swelled to 57 stations spanning two states, four cities and more than a dozen neighborhoods. The ability to expand and integrate the system across state and city lines is particularly notable as it is a feat most other bike-share systems in North America have not yet achieved.

This relatively rapid expansion has been fueled by higher than expected ridership. As of early July, RedBike had hosted 116,739 rides – or about 5,300 per month. Bolstered by more than 1,500 annual members, these ridership totals translate into some 17,683 different people who have ridden a RedBike.

“Red Bike has gotten off to a dream start. Our community has embraced this new form of transportation,” Leslie Maloney, President of the Red Bike Board of Directors and Senior Vice President of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, said in a prepared release. “We will work to continue providing the highest quality and most fun transportation option in Cincinnati.”

Following the trends of bike-share systems elsewhere throughout the world, approximately 74% of its riders have either never ridden a bike before or at least not within the month before RedBike opened. This data makes many bike advocates in the region looking for ways to improve road safety for the surge of new cyclists out on the streets.

The biggest news in RedBike’s recently released annual report, however, pertains to its finances.

While many bike-share systems around the country have struggled financially, RedBike has been able to operate in the black since its inception, and has grown its cash reserves year-over-year.

In 2014 RedBike had a total of $234,251 in expenses and $1,144,911 in revenues. That net income grew in 2015 when the bike-share system had $484,389, but $1,740,792 in revenues. This net income, RedBike officials say, is used to purchase capital equipment necessary to keep the system fully functional.

While it is difficult to find bad news in the financial details released by RedBike, one might look at the fact that direct program income (user fees) cover only 65% of program expenses. When factoring in sponsorships, a fairly reliable and steady stream of income, it covers nearly 118% of program expenses.

All of the other income sources help to further stabilize the system, keep it operating at reliable and optimal levels, and are helping build a reserve fund that could be used to offset unexpected capital expenses or lower than anticipated operational performance.

UC Health is thrilled to be the presenting sponsor of the RedBike program,” said Dr. Richard P. Lofgren, President and CEO of UC Health. “As someone who lives downtown, all I have to do is look outside to see how successful this program is, and how bike share has been embraced by the citizens of Cincinnati.”

VIDEO: Cincy Red Bike Provides New Transportation Choice for the Urban Core

Although it launched less than two years ago, Red Bike has already become a very popular way to get around Cincinnati’s urban core. This new transportation option seems to be equally popular with recreational riders and those seeking to get around for practical purposes.

In a new video produced by Give Back Cincinnati — the second in a series on new transportation options in the city — the creation and growth of Red Bike is explored.

Be sure to check out the first video in the series, which focused on the tri*Metro program, and stay tuned to UrbanCincy for the third and final part of the series.

Red Bike Firmly Establishes Itself As Tri-State’s Largest Bike-Share Program

Red Bike recorded its 100,000th ride early last week when Keith Piercy checked out a bike at the Port Bellevue Station in Northern Kentucky.

According to Jason Barron, Executive Director of Red Bike, Piercy rode the bike across the river and docked it at the Freedom Center Station at The Banks. Piercy explained that he was out running some errands and was even on his way to go buy a new bike helmet.

“This is awesome. It [Red Bike] has been working out great for me,” Piercy said. “It is really helping out our one-car family.”

The moment comes as data from the American Community Survey found that Cincinnati has one of the fastest growing bicycling communities in the nation, and the biggest in Ohio. It also comes just after the one-year anniversary of Red Bike’s launch, which also took place in front of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

According to Barron, ridership has far exceeded initial expectations, with more than 17,000 people using Red Bike in its first year. This growth also fueled the quicker than anticipated expansion of the system. With 50 stations located on both sides of the Ohio River, Red Bike is the largest bike share system in Ohio, and the first public bike share system in Kentucky.

While it is expected that ridership and system growth will level off over the second year of operations, Red Bike leadership is looking to iron out finances and expand upon programs, like the one recently launched with CityLink, to make the system more accessible to people at all income levels.

Annual memberships can be purchased for $80, while day passes can be purchased for $8. Semester passes, which are good for 120 days and are marketed toward university students, can be purchased for $30.

Red Bike, CityLink Agree to Partnership to Offer Low-Cost Memberships

Red Bike and CityLink Center will announce a new partnership tomorrow to make bike share more affordable for low-income individuals.

Under the agreement, annual Red Bike memberships would be sold to CityLink for $20, which typically sell for $80. Those passes will then be offered to CityLink members for just $5.

Jason Barron, Executive Director of Red Bike, says that the program will start with 20 members who will receive bike safety classes from Riding Forward, and learn how to use the Red Bike system along with its website and data tracking.

“We really believe in what CityLink is doing, and we think Red Bike is a great option for those folks as they’re looking to get to job interviews, training and work,” Barron told UrbanCincy. “Hopefully this will help CityLink and their members be even more successful.”

The move comes at a time when bike share systems are growing rapidly around North America, but continue to struggle with equity issues. In Chicago, the Divvy bike share system has recently announced a similar partnership and will even have a few days where the entire system is free.

Beyond just the membership fee, bike share systems around the country have also been criticized of avoiding lower income neighborhoods. This is something that Barron said they tried to address in their latest expansion.

In that effort, Red Bike added 17 new stations, including one on Bank Street in front of CityLink. He says that this station was funded through a grant that was applied for by Interact for Health, which is a system sponsor of RedBike, and CityLink.

While the initial pilot program will start with just 20 members, Barron is hopeful that it can be expanded to new groups of members at CityLink on a regular, perhaps quarterly, basis. From there he says that the model could be expanded even further to other organizations throughout the region.

“Our hope is that the CityLink Station and partnership with Red Bike could serve as a catalyst for creating a model to cultivate new physical activity habits and overcome transportation barriers for our clients,” explained Johmark Oudersluys, Executive Director of CityLink. “This program promotes the spirit of health equity when health disparities are at record highs right here in our own city.”

It is this hope and spirit that also made Red Bike want to enter into the agreement, even though that meant the non-profit bike share organization had to eat the cost difference.

“We have always wanted to do this,” Barron said. “We’re really excited to roll out this partnership with CityLink, and believe it could be rolled out to other organizations around town if it proves to be successful.”

The official announcement will come tomorrow outside of CityLink at 3:30pm. Meanwhile, the one-year anniversary of Red Bike’s operations is coming, along with a full release of the organizations fiscal health and operational performance.