- Associated Press - Sunday, December 22, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Upgrades are on the horizon for New Orleans‘ public bicycle system.

The bike-sharing system will switch form pedal bicycles to electric bicycles that can go as fast as 20 mph in a major upgrade next month.

The Blue Bikes rental system is also increasing the number of bikes on the streets from 700 to 900, and making them available in more neighborhoods. But the faster bikes will come with a cost: Riders who now pay 10 cents a minute will instead pay 25 cents, Blue Bikes General Manager Geoff Coats said.

Monthly users who now pay $20 a month will pay $30 a month. The cost for low-income riders who receive public assistance for food or health care will stay the same, at $20 annually, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported

In addition, Blue Bikes is canceling its university program, which offered the bikes to college students for $10 per month.



The changes are aimed at providing a more convenient, less physically demanding way for riders to get around the city, Coats said Tuesday. The price changes reflect the cost of an improved product, he said.

“I am thrilled that all of our dedicated riders will soon experience the benefits of e-bikes - getting across town faster without breaking a sweat,” he said.

New Orleans joins nearly three dozen other cities in the U.S. and across the world that have embraced electric bikes in cooperation with JUMP, the company with which the city has partnered. Ride-sharing company Uber acquired JUMP in 2018. That means New Orleans residents and tourists will be able to access an electric bike through their Uber app once the new bikes hit the streets in late January.

The electric bikes will have three speeds, like the current Blue Bikes. But the battery and design of the e-bikes turn the idea of a traditional bike on its head: Riders will exert more effort in first gear, instead of less. The higher the gear, the more the bike’s motor will kick in, meaning a rider can go faster and farther with less effort.

There’s no way to turn off the battery, and there will be no manual bikes left in the system once the switch is final, Coats said.

Still, the electric bikes do provide an exercise benefit, as riders using them tend to make longer trips than they would on a manual bike.

Although the e-bikes are dockless in other cities, the bikes will be docked at hubs in New Orleans, just as they are now. The new bikes may also be locked to bike racks, but they may not be left freestanding.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell praised the changes. “While everyone rides for different reasons, the system mirrors our city, and bikes are located in a growing number of neighborhoods to meet different needs,” she said in a statement.

The city’s revenue agreement with Blue Bikes remains unchanged. JUMP pays the city 2% of the revenue it makes on each bike once that revenue passes $2,500.

Asked whether he thinks he’ll have trouble convincing Blue Bike users to switch to the faster bikes, Coats said most people’s concerns evaporate once they get on them for the first time.

“They think it’s very different, but once they get on, they’re like, ‘Oh. This is just like riding a bike,’” he said.

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