SAN ANTONIO – Many people turned to biking during the COVID-19 pandemic, for exercise or even to get around.
And a recent study from researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio found that boom in biking even extended to San Antonio Bike Share.
“And it was amazing how the locals came out of the woodwork, if you will,” said JD Simpson, executive director of San Antonio Bike Share. “And suddenly people who had never used our program before started using it.”
Simpson believes one factor in that increase may have been that people felt safe using the program. That conclusion was backed up by the UTSA study. It found that San Antonio Bike Share was one of the few big city bike shares that clearly laid out COVID-19 safety protocols. The company BCycle took over operations of the program earlier this month.
“A lot of different other bikeshare systems were not necessarily doing a great job at communicating what riders should do during the pandemic,” said Greg Griffin, a professor of Urban and Regional Planning at UTSA. “… Bike Share and BCycle did, and so they served as a good example to be able to compare against some of the others.”
The study also found that San Antonio had one of the biggest increases in bicycle miles traveled among the major cities it studied, by more than 50%.
Ridership across many social and economic categories increased, including those who found themselves unemployed during the pandemic.
“They were the ones that took the opportunity to use the bicycle system the most, which suggests that BCycle has an important role in both health and transportation access, particularly for people with limited opportunities,” Griffin said.
Riders who started using BCycle during the pandemic told researchers they planned to continue to do so once conditions improved.
“We weren’t really sure, you know, because people are starting to go back to work and trying to get back to their regular life, but we’re still, if we compare this year 2021 to 2019, then we are above those numbers,” Simpson said. “So we’re not quite at the pandemic level of ridership, but still considerably up from over 2019.”
Simpson said the system is using the next few months to reassess its operations, including whether to close and relocate some kiosks, or expand to different neighborhoods in San Antonio.
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