Thriving and growing: Despite pandemic, Bikeshare Hawaii Island expanding

  • A Bikeshare station across from Kahaluu Beach (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Tourists rent a bike from the Bikeshare station on Alii Drive. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Bikeshare bikes are available for rent on Alii Drive. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Bikeshare Hawaii Island has been thriving and growing since first introduced five years ago.

The program, which was the first of its kind in the state when it started in August 2016 with three Kona stations and 32 bikes, has grown to 130 bikes at seven stations in Kona and four in Hilo. And despite, the pandemic, which resulted in a 50% drop in ridership, forcing the program in Honolulu to decommission stations, ridership remains strong on the Big Island.

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“We didn’t suffer at all during the pandemic. We had the opposite experience as Honolulu’s Bikeshare. We actually saw exponential growth in our Bikeshare,” said Jessica Thompson, executive director of PATH, or Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii. “Part of that was because there was a huge rental car shortage. Our rider rates really started picking up in November 2020. They were growing all year but went through the roof in November. We actually surpassed pre-pandemic levels.”

Tina Clothier, PATH’s former executive director said the nonprofit program received almost $50,000 in grants from Hawaii County during the pandemic to offer free Bikeshare membership to Hawaii Island residents for three months so that they could exercise while being socially distant.

“This was done at the request of the county. We had over 700 residents sign up,” she said. “They logged thousands of rides. When the tourists started coming back, rental cars were scarce and expensive, so our Bikeshare program was incredibly busy. We have definitely proved the concept and it seems to me that Bikeshare is here to stay.”

Bikeshare Hawaii Island was created in 2016 through the joint efforts of the County of Hawaii Department of Research and Development, the Mayor’s Active Living Advisory Council and PATH.

The program recently was awarded a $950,000 federal grant from the Transportation Alternatives Program to expand Bikeshare it further on the island.

“Part of the money will be used to do an analysis of where the best placements would be,” said Thompson. “Right now, we are in conversation with the University of Hawaii-Hilo. We would also like to put a station at the Palamanui Community College but that will be contingent on the extension of Ane Keohokalole Highway,”

She said although the four stations in Hilo don’t get as much ridership as in Kona, they do get a fair amount of activity and once they expand to the university they expect to see more.

Thompson said the program is also working with the Hawaii County’s Mass Transit Agency to make sure the Bikeshare stations are in alignment with the Hele-On bus stops to help build out the multi-model transportation plan.

“We are also exploring what it might look like to offer e-bikes, because there a lot of hills here,” she said. “It’s in its infancy because it’s a lot more expensive and you need a lot more electricity. Right now the electricity we use is all solar to run our kiosks. That’s a ways off but something we are looking at.”

Thompson said it is pretty amazing the program has sustained itself.

“It’s a testament to Tina Clothier and the board,” said Thompson. “It started as a pilot and here we are now. There’s a lot of information about Bikeshare in large urban areas, but not as many in smaller places.”

She said PATH is happy Bikeshare continues to offer a climate friendly and physically friendly healthful action for transportation.

“We are very excited to see what the future holds for Bikeshare,” she said.

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For more information and locations of Bikeshare stations on the island, visit hawaiiislandbikeshare.org.

Email Laura Ruminski at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.