AUSTIN (KXAN) — When downtown Austin neighbor Kevin Orput first signed up for MetroBike he was looking forward to putting his car away and turning to e-bicycles for his travel needs.
Orput said he spends about $100 annually for a MetroBike membership. MetroBike offers e-bikes and traditional bicycles for rent throughout downtown Austin.
It’s a program owned by the City of Austin, serviced by Capital Metro and operated by the nonprofit Bike Share of Austin.
However, recently, Orput said it’s been difficult depending on the service as many of the bikes at several stations are rarely charged.
“If it was more reliable, I could run even more errands without having to take my car out without having to pay for gas without clogging up the streets,” he said.
It’s an issue Orput said he’s been dealing with for the last six months.
“Just the other day I went to probably six stations, and there was not a single charged bike at any of those stations,” he said. “I finally gave up and went home.”
Orput is not alone. Others said they have been and are facing the same obstacle.
“It’s frustrating, because I really want to use the bike to bike around, and I don’t want to drive,” said Sharon Bhalaru, a MetroBike user.
MetroBike officials said they are aware of the problems, with the City of Austin’s Assistant Director of Smart Mobility Jason JonMichael saying they’re essentially at “an intersection of a few different things happening at once.”
“We’re in the midst of a huge transition for the program,” added Chad Ballentine, Capital Metro’s vice president of Demand Response and Innovative Mobility. “It’s been around for many years, it’s we’ve just now introduced e-bikes into the system in the last two years, and they’re very popular. They’re really awesome. We’ve struggled I guess a little bit of our success, because we don’t have enough staff right now to manage the program.”
Not only is the lack of staff an issue but officials said there have also been thefts of bikes. Luckily, officials said, they have been able to recover the bikes through GPS.
“Since we installed tracking on the bikes, we’ve only lost one bicycle,” explained Diego Martinez-Moncada, the executive director of Bike Share of Austin. “We do have more than that stolen but being as we’re able to track everything, and we pretty reliably are able to see once something gets out of the system, which is one of the benefits of the dock system, we’re able to see when a trip has gone way over time, we are then able to quickly send out our field text to start to get to recover those bikes.”
Another challenge involves supply chain issues. They’re having trouble finding lithium-ion batteries. Those are needed to charge the bikes, and so far, they’ve only received about 10% of the 200 batteries they’ve ordered. Another round of 100 batteries won’t be available until October.
“They’re very popular,” said JonMichael about the e-bikes. “So they’re used about 10 times as much, so obviously the recharge and the cycle of one battery being charged and depleted three, four times over in a day makes its life go down.”
Officials said e-bikes make up about 40% of the MetroBike system. The rest are traditional bicycles.
Officials are working on a plan to expand the system outside of downtown to other parts of the city but said their goal at this time is to tackle the current issues.
MetroBike officials said anyone who has an issue should contact officials through the app. The app has also gone through an update recently in hopes of addressing the current issues. Orput said his biggest complaint about the app is that it will list a bike as charged when it is not.
Officials with nonprofit Bike Share said they are monitoring the updates from B-Cycle and TREK this week to ensure things run smoothly.