A beer bottle sits on a Blue Bike at a bike station off Blossom Street. (Photos by Madeline Hager/Carolina News and Reporter)
The city of Columbia announced earlier this year it would shut down the Blue Bike program if it couldn’t find another company to take it over by June 30 or until a new owner stepped in.
Months later, it is still searching.
Bewegen Technologies, which operated the bike share program using city bikes, went out of business earlier this year, leaving bikes sitting unused across downtown. Insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield, a program sponsor, had helped get the word out about the healthy transportation option.
The bike share program’s goal was to “promote short bike trips within core communities, where clusters of large employers, colleges, shopping, tourist destinations and residents can readily be connected,” according to the Blue Bike website.
But in Columbia, without the bike share, people also are left with one less way of getting to and from work.
“This leaves a gap in first- and final-mile solutions for the Columbia bus system,” said David King, president of Cola Town Bike Collective, a separate non-profit bike lender. “People using public transportation are forced to walk miles to get to and from bus stations.”
Oct. 1 would have been the fifth anniversary of the city’s bike share if the bikes were still in operation.
Columbia resident Malcolm Goodridge said he tried to use the app that unlocks the bikes on many occasions on the Cayce Riverwalk, and it never worked. The riverwalk is the program’s most popular bike station, according to the Blue Bike website.
“So disappointing,” Goodridge wrote in a Facebook post about the bike share not working.
Cities around the country that used the Canadian-based bike-share operator reported this spring the company had gone out of business.
Bewegen’s ex-project manager for Columbia and several other U.S. cities, Yanik Hardy of Canada, told the Carolina News and Reporter on Oct. 4 that the company shut down mid-May.
Some cities under the same bike share program have gotten their bikes up and running again, Hardy said. The city of Raleigh’s program, for example, restored its bike program June 7, with a new company.
There is still no future in sight for Columbia’s bikes. City officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking information about the program’s future.
Some of the 18 bike stations around Columbia, meanwhile, look abandoned.
Hardy said neither the city nor users can unlock the bikes since they need access to the IT company that operates the bikes.
The bikes could end up in a landfill, like Charleston’s Holy Spokes’ bikes did, if the city has to get a completely new bike system.
The Blue Bike program is still advertised on the COMET and city of Columbia websites.
But the Blue Bike website says: “Blue Bike is closed. As of now, it is no longer possible to unlock bikes. We will provide further notice if the system reopens. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”
Biking is popular in Columbia area, with more than 300 cyclists recorded daily in the city in 2022, according to that year’s Pedestrian and Bicyclist Counts Data Analysis.