College Park’s bikeshare network expands

The small bike share system that launched a year ago in College Park is expanding outside the city boundaries this week.

The mBike system is adding five stations, including two in the nearby University Park. Other municipalities along the Route 1 corridor are considering joining the system, which has provided thousands of trips to residents and visitors in that area of Prince George’s County.

“We’ve really just scratched the surface of this program’s potential to benefit the community and riders,” said Timothy Ericson, chief executive officer of Zagster, the company that runs mBike and operates various campus bike-share programs across the U.S.

“The significant expansion of bikes and locations is a reflection of the strong utilization of the existing program and of the demand for an even larger one,” he said.

College Park and the University of Maryland launched the small bike network a year ago after failed attempts to join the region’s Capital Bikeshare, which has a presence in the District, Alexandria and Arlington, Montgomery and Fairfax counties.

After years of study, Prince George’s recently said it will launch Capital Bikeshare next year with stations at National Harbor and in a portion of the Route 1 corridor, a few miles south of College Park.  But officials in some municipalities say it took the county too long to start a program and they couldn’t wait any longer. The mBike program has offered a good alternative, officials say.

“We would like to be a part of a larger system such as Capital Bikeshare if they ever come to Prince George’s County,” University Park Mayor Len Carey said. “But the time to have it was probably two years ago.”

At University Park, joining mBike fulfills a vision to incorporate bikeshare in the town’s multi-modal transportation options. Officials there say the two stations being installed this week in the town boundaries will help residents connect to the Metro system, downtown College Park and the University.

Riverdale Park is also considering joining the bike network, a town official said.

Already mBike has grown by 30 percent to 163 bikes at 19 stations and surpassing 24,000 trips in the first year of operations. Officials say it has been a popular option for students, residents and visitors to get around campus and the city. Many riders use it to make the one-mile trek from the College Park Metro station to downtown College Park or the university campus.

“We are very excited about the growth and success of the system,” University of Maryland Campus Bicycle Coordinator Aaron Goldbeck said in a statement.

Unlike Capital Bikeshare, mBike users are allowed to ride as long as they want, wherever they want because the system provides dockless locking for mid-trip stops besides the fixed station locations. This allows users to plan their trips around their destinations instead of around station locations, officials say.

MBike also is cheaper than Capital Bikeshare. Annual memberships are $65 and a day pass $6 vs. Bikeshare’s $85 annual fee and $8 daily.  Bike stations can be found on the Zagster website and mobile App.

In the future, supporters of the College Park system say they hope it can be made compatible with Capital Bikeshare to give residents access to the larger network of bicycles.

“People like to use bikeshare for the first and last mile of their trips. If their commute takes them to downtown (Washington) then it will be useful to have a system that is compatible,” Carey said. “We are encouraging the county when it builds the system to do it in a way that recognizes that a lot of municipalities already have a bike share program.”