New Haven Bike Share Program Aims to Attract Riders From All Neighborhoods

Interview with Carolyn Lusch, program manager for Bike New Haven, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Urban planners and transportation advocates say that the single most important element that increases bicycling in cities and towns is a bike share program. That’s where fleets of bikes are stationed around town in groups of 10 to 25, and people can rent them by the hour. Most major U.S. cities, like New York, Washington, D.C., Houston, Phoenix, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, have programs, along with many mid-size cities.
Between 2010 and 2016, bike share riders took more than 88 million trips, with New Yorkers being by far the most active bikers. In 2016, 56 cities and towns were listed in the U.S. with bike share programs. That number does not include a number of programs launched since then. New Haven, Connecticut, population 130,000, for example, launched their bike share program in February 2018.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Carolyn Lusch, program manager with Bike New Haven. Here, she explains how the city’s public/private partnership differs from other big city bike share programs.

CAROLYN LUSCH: This is a public/private partnership with the City of New Haven. It is funded through a mix of user revenue and advertising, so it does not use any public money, any city money. And it’s also unique compared to some cities in that it was really created with residents of New Haven in mind rather than tourists; some bike share programs are really geared toward tourists.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Yeah, it seems just about all the ones I know of are geared to tourists, and I must admit I was a bit skeptical about whether a bike share would be successful in New Haven. Can you share with us some of the data – how many bikes are out there, their use in the different areas of the city and all that?

CAROLYN LUSCH: Sure. So at the moment we still just have 100 bikes, but we are very close to getting another 80 bikes out there. They are having the final touches put on in our warehouse, so we’re going to nearly double our fleet, and we’re really excited about the ridership opportunities that will bring. Our stations are throughout mostly the inner part of the city but getting into some of the outer neighborhoods as well. The first phase is going to be 300 bikes, so we hope by the end of this year to have 300 bikes out.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So is there a plan for a second phase and more bikes?

CAROLYN LUSCH: Well, we are potentially going to have 400, because we’ll have 40 stations, so 10 per stations would be the maximum. But aside from that, it really depends on what we see in terms of ridership and the feedback we get. So we’ll go from there.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So speaking of ridership, what can you tell us about that, just around the stations you already have?

CAROLYN LUSCH: I have my numbers here. We have seen so far almost 7,000 rental sessions and almost 11,000 trips. The numbers are different because a rental session may contain more than one trip; someone stops the bike to get coffee or do something else. So that’s where we are now. We have over 7,000 miles cycled total, and about a 1,000 hours of cycling. So we are happy with the learning curve we’ve seen in terms of people starting to use the system more and more and expect that to really continue once we get more of these bikes out there.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, explain exactly what someone does. Someone wants to rent a bike. They see these pretty green bikes out in various places. What do they do?

CAROLYN LUSCH: Sure. So at the moment someone would need to have a smart phone to use the system; hopefully in the future we’re going to work out other options. So on their phone they would go to their App store and look for the Bike New Haven app; it’s free; download it and create an account with an email address and link a credit card – and that is something else we’re working on, is getting cash-based passes, hopefully, for the future. So once the credit card is linked and the account is made, all you have to do is pull up the button that says Scan to unlock, and use your phone to scan the QR code on whatever bike you’re trying to unlock. That releases the lock on the rear wheel and then the clock has started for the rental session.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And how long is the session?

CAROLYN LUSCH: A rental session is 45 minutes and so all of the passes – there are a day pass, monthly pass and year pass – that’s an increment of unlimited 45-minute trips. If you go above that, you’re charged an extra amount, in most cases, $2 for every 45-minute increment.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What does it actually cost and are there tiers, or does everyone pay the same price?

CAROLYN LUSCH: We have our standard prices, which is $1.75 for one 45-minute trip and then $20 for a month pass and $90 for a year pass. However, we also have discounts; we have a senior and student rate, which is $50 for a year pass, and we also have a $15 a year pass for people who are on state benefits.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Wow, that’s pretty reasonable. So among all your data there, do you have a breakout of people who are in those different categories, what they pay; trying to get a sense … I know it’s not targeted to tourists, which makes sense in New Haven – not that we don’t have some. But is it people who work downtown or kids who live in the different neighborhoods? Do you have any of that data?

CAROLYN LUSCH: Well, we’ve seen a really great variety of that. And we did do a survey of our mailing list recently to see how people are using the system, and it was just a wide variety of things that people put down. People use it to get to work, to get to the grocery store, to go to coffee shops and restaurants, to go to doctors’ appointments. So we’ve seen it used in a variety of ways and we are hoping to spread the word about those reduced cost passes, and about how to use it, so that we can get more and more people using it.

For more information on Bike New Haven, visit

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