Bikeshare Hawaii regroups to cut costs, starts removing some stations

Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·3 min read

Apr. 12—Bikeshare Hawaii, the nonprofit organization that manages the Biki bikeshare business, said it will decommission many stations over the next few months as part of an urgent cost-saving plan to survive pandemic-related losses.

Todd Boulanger, executive director of Bikeshare Hawaii, said the decommissioning and storing of six stations, which starts Thursday, is probably the first "communitywide insight into what's happening to Biki because of COVID."

Boulanger said the coming station cuts and 60 % reduction in service, including limiting call center hours and bike re-balancing at all stations, is part of the nonprofit's plan "to try to economize even deeper and manage and sustain our limited funds so that we have a little bit more runway."

Boulanger said Biki has to find a large financial solution in the next two to six months.

"We're also talking to the city. We're talking to our congressional representative and corporate sponsors about adding additional support to bridge us through the remaining period of COVID, " he said.

Biki, which was launched in 2017, has about 130 self-service "Biki Stops " from Iwilei to Diamond Head and over 1, 000 Biki bikes. On Thursday it will begin the first of multiple phases of deeper reductions in 2021, with the decommissioning of six stations, including :—Station 102 : American Savings Bank Headquarters, Kalihi.—Station 121 : state Capitol, Downtown Honolulu.—Station 219 : WorkPlay, Kakaako.—Station 325 : Walina Street, Waikiki.—Station 410 : Cartwright Neighborhood Park, Makiki.—Station 552 : 3660 on the Rise, Kaimuki.

Boulanger said these latest cuts will help the program continue to operate ; however, he said it might not be able to sustain itself for much longer without new financial support.

He said Biki quietly trimmed staff over the past four months as it realized Japanese tourism wasn't going to come back for the New Year.

Boulanger said Biki did not qualify for transit funds. Biki received some payroll protection funds. However, Boulanger said after they were depleted, Biki's staff dropped from about 30 people to eight or so.

"We've had a range of retirements, furloughs and layoffs, and hours have been cut, " he said.

While the city deemed Biki as essential, Boulanger said the drop in tourism and the increase in the number of people working from home caused 2020 revenues from fare-paying customers to drop to just over half of 2019 revenues. Member revenues supply a core base of business ; still, trips for one-time users bring in much higher revenue, he said.

"We're still down over 40, 000 rides a month, " Boulanger said, adding that the drop in in-person attendance at colleges and high schools also contributed to shortfalls.

The problem isn't unique to Hawaii. Boulanger said about 46 of the 170 cities served by bikeshare or e-scooter systems were left without service due to closures caused by the economic impact of the pandemic.

But he said the impacts have been felt more severely in Hawaii because of the state's dependence on tourism.

"COVID has affected all tourist dependent cities in the world, and Honolulu, because of our focus on that industry, has had a slower bounce back, " Boulanger said.

The increase in U.S. West visitor traffic over spring break has been good for Hawaii's visitor-dependent businesses, but he said it hasn't offset the drop in visitor traffic from Asia.

Bob Greenberg, a Chinatown resident and frequent bikeshare user, said he hopes Biki finds a financial solution that allows it to get back on track.

He said he enjoys Biki because it is convenient. Greenberg said he also values Biki's ability to advance Honolulu's resiliency goals and ensure the success of Honolulu's Complete Streets program, which aims to balance the needs of all roadway users.

"My wife, Ying, goes to work on Biki, and I use it to run errands, " he said. "We use it so much that we were contemplating getting rid of our car. It really is an essential service that all the big cities offer. I can't imagine if they took it away. I would be so bummed."