Last week I got the call I’d been dreading from my bike shop: My bike, which I’d brought in a few days before, and which I use to get everywhere, was beyond repair. After stopping by the shop to pick up the pieces, and going through a brief mourning period, I signed up for a monthly membership with BlueBike, Boston’s bikeshare system.
I didn’t like losing my personal bike – but after getting around on city bikeshare for a week, I feel like I’ve had a glimpse into the future of urban transportation. With a monthly membership, each ride is free, and that’s changed how I get around the city. The biggest change is how much it’s improved bus and train travel. Suddenly, planning bus or train trips is dramatically easier and more flexible. I no longer need the perfect route. With BlueBike stations all over the city, my bus just needs to get me “close enough,” and then I can just hop on a bike and get where I’m going. Or if I’m starting off far from the station, my first instinct is no longer to look for an Uber – instead, I can just bike to the right stop. And I don’t have to give a thought to retrieving my bike later.
After just a week of mixing bike, bus and train, I’ve been thinking: Wouldn’t it be incredible if they were all part of one service? Just as my MBTA Charlie Card gets me free transfers between buses and trains, what if it could also get me on a bike or an electric scooter? It’s not hard to see how this would result in more people getting around on all these types of transportation, and would increase the accessibility and geographic reach of the whole system.
Although I am just truly appreciating it for the first time, the idea of integrating bikeshare and transit is nothing new. Since 2017, Pittsburgh’s transit system has let users take free 15-minute rides on the city’s Healthy Ride bikeshare system, after linking their accounts. In Milwaukee, riders can get a special sticker with an integrated chip that can unlock Bublr Bikes, and is designed to stick right onto transit cards. Milwaukee buses also announce whether there is a bikeshare station at approaching bus stops. And in many cities, smartphone apps like TransitApp and Google Maps already let users plan trips combining bike and transit.
As it turns out, Boston has a history of making life easier for travelers by combining and simplifying transportation systems. I recently read a book about the birth of the Boston subway system called The Race Underground and learned that originally, Boston’s horse-drawn trollies were run by competing private companies. In 1887, there were more than 20 companies all fighting over customers – and each required a separate ticket, creating a big hassle for travelers. In response, Massachusetts merged each company under one single system. And almost 80 years later, Massachusetts consolidated local transit systems under the MBTA, America’s first regional transit system. These changes made life for riders easier and cheaper by allowing transfers between trains and buses across a wide area, and making transit experiences more consistent and predictable.
Yesterday, I finally got a shiny new bike that I hope will last me forever, but I also know there will be plenty of times in the future when I won’t have it. I wish that for those times, unlocking a shared bike was easier – and that I could do it with my existing Charlie Card, and get everything through just one monthly pass or trip fare. As it happens, right now the MBTA is moving toward a new fare payment system called AFC 2.0 that should bring advanced features like smartphone ticketing, and that could (as others have noted) be a good opportunity to integrate bikeshare. There are plenty of good environmental and economic reasons to want this – but I also know that it will just make getting around easier and more fun. There’s no reason why Boston, and cities and towns around the country, can’t make it happen.
Photo: BlueBike station at Boston City Hall, with the old statehouse (and State T stop) in the background.