MetroBike gears up for revamp after major outage: Austin’s bike-share program comes to a complete halt during SXSW – News
The city’s bike share program was shut down entirely during SXSW (Provided by MetroBike)
MetroBike, Austin’s public bike-sharing system, was forced to shut down service between March 17 and March 19 due to a software issue. The failure occurred during the peak of South by Southwest – their busiest week of the year – raising questions about the reliability of the service under pressure.
A statement from representatives of Austin Transportation, Austin Bike Shareand CapMetro said software issues prevented MetroBikes “from being properly registered at the end of a session, resulting in incorrect billing”, and that the bikes were rendered “unrentable because the system [could] not recognize them as returned and ready to go.” The number of issues became too difficult for staff to mitigate as demand during SXSW increased, they said, prompting staff to take the system offline. .
MetroBike was finally able to resume a “limited degree” of service, but the system is still not yet in its optimal operating condition, according to spokespersons. It’s fixable, but timing could make this fix expensive, said Abell Hillboard member of Bike Share of Austin and longtime leader of Austin Bike. “CapMetro is willing to spend several million dollars to buy more equipment, and if they can’t fix this fast enough, the city is going to demand the system go out and get tenders. [requests for proposal] for potentially another supplier. It would be really painful…because it puts in place whole new systems, docks and everything, plus it would cost a lot more money.”
MetroBike’s operations involve multiple organizations: Austin Transportation owns the system, CapMetro oversees its design and planning, and Austin’s Bike Share operates the system. The software system at the center of the operation is a product of Cycle Ba division of hiking. The bike-sharing system – originally called Austin B-Cycle – saw a transition in 2020, when the City of Austin partnered with CapMetro to integrate the program into the Capital Metro transit system, which has resulted in the name change to “MetroBike”. That’s “when we really started to gain momentum,” Abell said. “Now that Capital Metro has taken over management of the system – it’s the same people at B-Cycle who run the system – but they give them so many more resources to work with, and that’s made all the difference.” Trek has invested “literally hundreds of millions of dollars” in developing the software system for the various markets they are in, Abell noted. “But unfortunately, they learned a hard lesson in how the stress of a software system can lead to unintended consequences,” he said.
Even with the glitches, MetroBike has seen increased demand throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They have around 800 bikes and e-bikes in service with 78 stations. And it’s e-bikes that are driving demand, generating “about four to five times more trips than manual bikes,” PIOs said. “Pedal-assist bikes are just phenomenal,” Abell added, “and are such a game-changer for people who aren’t cyclists and for people who just want to use them as a transportation tool…and that’s a so good value – you can get an annual pass for the price of two or three Uber rides halfway through town.”
A MetroBike pedal-assist bike costs more to maintain and costs almost 2.5 times more than one of their normal bikes, Hill noted. “But the quality is phenomenal, they’re super tough, and Trek has done a really good job of creating the bikes,” he said. “Where the real challenge has been is the system software.”
Continuing the expansion of MetroBike helps the city with its Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, which aims to increase transportation affordability and provide more ways to get around the city safely, Abell said. “Once the whole system is built and people see the connectivity that’s available to them, it’s going to see huge usage.”