Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Bluebikes’ e-bikes feature pedal-assist, a single-gear transmission and a 60-mile battery. (Image: Bluebikes)

The first 20 e-bikes in the Bluebikes rental system are expected to become available at 4 p.m. Wednesday at a Kendall Square valet station, to be joined by 730 more over the next few months, Cambridge city staff said Wednesday.

It’s been a long wait for the power-assisted bikes, and the arrival means Greater Boston is catching up with rental programs in cities such as New York and Chicago. The five communities in the Bluebikes governing council – Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, Brookline and Everett – have spent more than a year renegotiating a contract with Lyft to manage the system and individual contracts, as well as setting a cost model and number of bikes.

“We’ve all heard swirling around that it’s close,” city councillor Patty Nolan said Monday.

At that council meeting, though, assistant city manager Iram Farooq held off on an announcement, saying only that “our teams have been working diligently both in Cambridge, Boston, Somerville and the broader network to to bring e-bikes in.”

“We hope to have some good news for you very, very soon,” Farooq said – and that came less than two days later.

Bluebikes’ e-bikes, which are made by Lyft, feature pedal-assist technology, a single-gear transmission, a battery with a 60-mile range, a user-friendly interface screen and LED light and reflective paint for increased visibility. “One of the great things about e-bikes is they have lights at all times,” Nolan said, “which is critically important for safety.”

The e-bikes will cost 25 a minute for nonmembers buying a single trip or Adventure Pass; 10 cents per minute for Bluebikes members; and 7 cents per minute for low-income residents enrolled in Bluebikes’ Income-Eligible Program.

Bluebikes system launched in Cambridge in July 2012 as Hubway. The system, now “blue” because it’s sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, has more than 31,000 total members in 13 participating communities. Cambridge residents, employees and students make up more than 7,300 of those members.

“Bluebikes have become a critical part of Cambridge’s public transportation system,” City Manager Yi-An Huang said. “Adding this eco-friendly option to the Bluebikes fleet will open up the system to more older adults, people with disabilities and others who may find traditional bikes hard to pedal. It will also create more opportunities for individuals seeking to maximize their time, get around and access to our busy communities, while reducing traffic congestion.”

This year six Cambridge Bluebikes stations were added to the system and two more are expected, for a total 87 stations in Cambridge and 472 total. The integration of e-bikes is expected to grow the overall fleet to 5,000 across 500 regional stations by next summer, according to data from the City of Cambridge and Bluebikes.

On Monday the council accepted a combined $628,400 in Bluebikes funds from 11 development sources such as EF in North Point, Market Central in Central Square and Alewife Center. 

When developers apply for special permits for their projects they must do a transportation impact study. “Then they have to mitigate any negative impacts” such as the added car traffic their projects will bring to a neighborhood, Farooq said. “One of the ways to do that is to help expand the bicycle and other sustainable modes’ related infrastructure.”

Massachusetts legalized Lyft’s class of e-bikes, which have no throttle and a maximum speed of 20 mph, as part of a transportation bond bill in 2022. E-bike riders have  the rights and privileges of any bicycle rider – except that e-bikes are not allowed to be used on sidewalks.