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Pittsburgh’s bikeshare system aims for relaunch, with electric bikes and more

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Brand new bikes will replace the existing Healthy Ride fleet in 2022. The program is partnering with community organizations to find new homes for the old ones.

Pittsburgh’s bikeshare program, Healthy Ride, will undergo a $2 to $4 million makeover next year that will replace all of its 500 bikes as well as renew its infrastructure.

The opportunity to relaunch the system grew, somewhat improbably, from two major problems.

This year, internet carriers will shut down the 3G network that Healthy Ride relies on, and the company that makes the Healthy Ride bikes no longer wants to do business in North America. That would leave Pittsburgh, the last city to use those bikes, with no way to obtain the parts needed to maintain the fleet.

Healthy Ride executive director David White said those challenges gave the program a chance to build on its experience and relaunch the network with big improvements.

As an example, White said the popularity of the city’s scooters demonstrates people’s interest in lightweight, electric vehicles.

“Having a motor, having something that’s really joyful and easy to get up hills, is clearly something that Pittsburgh residents and visitors have embraced,” he said.

Roughly half of the new bikes will be electric, a change that White said could help more people see bikeshare as a viable way to get around.

The number of bikes available will remain unchanged at 500, but Healthy Ride plans big changes for the stations that serve them.

The program will remove 50 of its existing 105 stations this winter and spring, but White expects to have 68 new, larger stations in place by the end of 2022. Those new stations will have room to dock regular bikes as well as electric bikes, and stand-on scooters. Some of the stations will be connected to the electric grid, so that the bikes can charge when docked.

“Customers will have a really high level of assurance that when they get to the station [the bike] will be charged,” White said, noting that wiring stations cuts down on having to send around a van to swap out batteries all day long.

A coalition of riders and customers, community development corporations, Port Authority and government leaders guided Healthy Ride’s decision about which stations to remove. Equity and access will continue to guide the program in the years ahead, White said.

“We are going to prioritize the neighborhoods that have been traditionally cut off by transportation choices in Pittsburgh,” he said.

Next year, Healthy Ride also plans to launch a program to offer more affordable rides to people with lower incomes.

Over the next five years, White said the organization hopes to increase the size of its network from 500 bikes to 2,500. He said the current system is undersized given the size of demand in the city, and when compared to national trends.

“There’s huge excitement about bikeshare,” he said. “We’ve seen mid-sized and large-sized cities make huge investments into their bikeshare programs and have those programs pay off with overwhelming success.”

White said the goal is to ensure there is no time during the station overhaul when the system is entirely offline. The goal, he said, is to remove stations in a way that preserves the greatest amount of access to the largest number of people through the whole process.