Over six months after its launch, New Haven’s bike-share program has yet to catch on with Elm City residents.

With a total of around 8,600 rides between February and August, New Haven’s highly anticipated bike-share program averages about half a ride per bike per day, a lower rate than many comparable programs in other cities across the country. City officials attribute the slow start to growing pains and the program’s emphasis on being accessible to all residents rather than profitable.

Human Services and Environmental Policy Committee Chair and Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola said that the ride numbers aren’t concerning given that the program is just starting up. He attributed the higher ride numbers in other cities to the fact that many of their stations are located in densely populated and affluent areas, often near universities. Although he expressed dissatisfaction with some of the ads displayed on the panels, he commended P3 Global Management Inc., the company that manages the bike-share program, for agreeing to service suburban and lower-income areas in addition to the downtown district, all at no cost to taxpayers.

“We had to look at the big picture,” DeCola said. “I advocated for [having bikes throughout] the whole city, but I had to give something up for that.”

At a Board of Alders meeting earlier this month, New Haven residents expressed concerns about the advertising panels that accompany the bike stations in the city, especially those featuring brands like McDonald’s and Heineken. Community members also complained about the ad choices in February.

With 40 bike stations around the city, each with two panels that can generate $1,500 a piece for a four-week period, the program has the potential to generate $1,560,000 per year in ad revenue alone. Most of this money goes to P3GM.

According to DeCola, New Haven’s contract with the company stipulates that the city receive a small percentage of the company’s profit, which goes toward the city’s general fund.

Bike-share programs are becoming more and more popular across the country, with dozens of companies partnering with cities and universities to install bike sharing. According to a report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, around 35 million bike-share trips were taken in 2017 in the United States.

Gotcha, a company headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, and founded nine years ago, manages bike-share programs in several dozen cities and universities nationwide, including in Charleston and Burlington, Vermont. Gotcha was one of the companies vying to secure a contract with the city of New Haven last year, but the city ultimately partnered with P3GM.

Unlike the New Haven program, which relies on its controversial ad panels for much of its revenue, Burlington’s program uses on-bike advertising from local companies like Ben & Jerry’s and partial funding from taxpayers, in addition to the amount it costs to rent the bike for a trip.

According to Gotcha CEO Sean Flood, the company’s citywide programs tend to average between two and six rides per bike per day, in comparison to which he said New Haven’s average of half a ride is “not ideal.”

Bike-share programs are popping up closer to home as well, including Hartford’s nascent program. Launched over the summer by the company LimeBike, the program has already seen more than 30,000 trips on the city’s 300 bikes, according to LimeBike Director of Expansion for the Northeast Scott Mullen.

Because of the success of the program, LimeBike plans to expand to about 600 bikes in Hartford, compared to the 610 bikes available in Boston when the city first launched its bike-share program in 2016. Because Boston’s population is about five times the size of Hartford’s, Mullen said that the comparable sizes of the two programs at their inceptions indicate how much the popularity of bike-share programs has increased in just the last two to three years.

Both LimeBike and Gotcha use dockless bikes, which do not have fixed stations to which riders must return their bikes at the end of a ride. According to Mullen, a recent study showed that dockless mobility systems tend to attract more riders from lower-income brackets because bike stations tend to be located in more affluent or touristy areas.

Lime also works to appeal to lower-income bikers by displaying all information in both English and Spanish and allowing users to fill their accounts with cash in addition to credit or debit card.

“We want to change the way people get around, and we want to change the way people see their own city,” Mullen said. “This is for everyone.”

P3 Global Management “creates public-private partnerships” — or P3s — “and facilitates collaboration between municipalities and the private sector to launch innovative urban infrastructure projects,” according to the company’s website. The company has also launched bike-share programs in cities including West Palm Beach, Florida, and Hoboken, New Jersey.

New Haven’s bike-share program launched in February of this year.

Nathalie Bussemaker | nathalie.bussamaker@yale.edu