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Austin Charts a Plan to Grow Its E-Bike Network

Austin plans to fully electrify its bike-share fleet, in addition to increasing the number of bikes and docking stations. This is in line with other cities and the broader trend of electrifying bicycle fleets.

A green traffic signal for bicycles with a cyclist in an intersection in the background.
Bike-share in Texas’ capital will grow in size and become electrified, reflecting a broader shift in the micromobility industry toward e-bikes.

CapMetro, the transit provider in Austin, signed a $20.6 million deal with PBSC Urban Solutions Inc., of Quebec, Canada, to provide bikes, docks, stations, software and other equipment for the city’s micromobility upgrade. The company is operating in about 50 cities around the world, with 100,000 bikes.

“This is hugely exciting. We always love a good bicycle program update,” said Paige Ellis, a member of the CapMetro Board of Directors, speaking at the board’s Jan. 29 meeting when CapMetro approved the contract.

Funding for the project will come from a combination of sources ranging from the city, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and CapMetro.

The bike-share system — which is operated by CapMetro, with the bikes and other assets owned by the city — currently includes around 800 bikes. The upgraded system, which will be expanded across a wider area and include an entirely electric fleet of bikes, will triple in size. Today, only 43 percent of MetroBike bicycles are electric.

Starting this summer, the existing 80 docking stations will begin an upgrade process which will include new bikes and other equipment, said Sara Sanford, CapMetro's interim vice president for demand response and innovative mobility. That process will extend through 2029, she told the board.

The transit system also aims for a “seamless” integration with the CapMetro transit network, said Sanford.

Shifting to an all-electric fleet is a trend seen across the micromobility landscape. Riders tend to travel farther, using the bikes for some of the more utilitarian uses like errands and work commutes, according to a 2022 report by the North American Bikeshare and Scootershare Association (NABSA). In fact, the average distance of an e-bike trip was 1.9 miles, compared to 1.4 miles on a typical pedal-powered bike. E-bikes were also ridden about 56 percent more than pedal bikes, according to the report.

Austin has been setting the stage for increased bike ridership. Between 2018 and 2021, the city developed more than 100 miles of new bike lanes, complete with fully or partially protected intersections. Austin’s station-based bike-share system provided more than 300,000 trips in 2022, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

The biggest growth areas for micromobility have been medium to small-sized cities, said Adrian Witte, a planner with Toole Design, an urban planning firm and contributor to the NABSA report.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.