AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin and CapMetro will begin its transition to an all-electric MetroBike fleet, tripling its resources and expanding beyond downtown.

In late July, Austin City Council and the CapMetro Board of Directors approved a joint agreement to expand the program and divvy up operational duties. Under the July 28 agreement, CapMetro will oversee daily operations and maintenance of the MetroBike program, while the city’s transportation department will “continue to provide oversight of the program and ownership of the assets,” per a Monday newsletter.

Currently, MetroBike’s program comprises 500 traditional, pedal bikes and 347 e-bikes, with 79 docking stations available in the downtown corridor. Under the latest agreement, city and CapMetro officials said the program will pivot to a strictly-electric fleet and triple the number of available bicycles and stations.

Since 2013, MetroBike’s program — previously named Austin B-Cycle — has expanded from 11 stations and 100 bicycles to its current fleet size. Data released by the Austin Transportation Department Monday attributed 80% of MetroBike ride trips to e-bikes, despite electric bikes accounting for roughly 40% of the city’s current fleet.

How soon will CapMetro triple and electrify its bike fleet?

As part of the expansion effort, CapMetro will be bringing in staff from its nonprofit partner, Bike Share of Austin, to become full-time transit authority employees. The expanded staff will help work through recent maintenance issues and assist with system expansions.

Once those staff members have trained up, then CapMetro will focus on community engagement and expansion plans. Following public feedback, then officials can focus on building out the system, said Chad Ballentine, CapMetro’s vice president of demand response and innovative mobility.

“Once we do that, we will set sort of our guides as to how we’ll expand, in the direction we’ll expand,” he said. “And that will generally be that over the next six years or so, we plan to triple the size of the bike share system.”

While the majority of MetroBike’s current fleet are non-electric, Ballentine said many of those traditional bikes are aging and approaching the ten-year mark. As CapMetro adds to its electric fleet, he said they’ll retire older, non-electric bikes and look toward possible second life repurposings, such as donating to local nonprofits or recycling them.

What neighborhoods is MetroBike looking to expand into?

Similar to the program’s overall growth efforts, Ballentine said the transit authority will incorporate public feedback into its geographic expansion. He said these community engagement opportunities will help facilitate feedback to ensure neighborhood expansions are equitable and address areas with fewer multi-modal transit options.

“For folks who don’t typically have access to transit, we look at safety, we want to look at the bike network connectivity, we want to look at, also, how it connects to the bus and train network,” he said. “We want to look at a bunch of these different factors and also potential for ridership, because we do want to also have a successful bike share system.”

Beyond the downtown corridor, initial Austin regions identified for possible docking stations and e-bikes include the University of Texas at Austin campus area, east Austin and south of Lady Bird Lake. As part of the network’s growth, Ballentine said CapMetro wants to fill in the gaps between “island bike shares,” instead promoting continuous access and system fluidity.

Addressing e-bike charging issues

As part of its fleet growth, CapMetro is looking to tackle various maintenance issues, including e-bike charging problems that KXAN reported on in July. Officials attributed those problems to supply chain shortages of lithium-ion batteries.

As of last week, CapMetro has received 100 new batteries and have been installing them into the e-bike fleet, Ballentine said.

“Already, we’ve worked down to zero complaints over the last week, which is a really big improvement from when we had no batteries and bikes were pretty regularly not fully charged,” he said. “But what we want to do is now put in orders for more, and continue to make sure that we’re ahead of the supply chain issues.”