Big Island bikeshare program thriving despite pandemic

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 4:31 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 13, 2021 at 5:00 AM HST
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KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Despite the pandemic, bikeshare ridership remained strong on the Big Island partly because there was a rental car shortage.

Bikeshare Hawaii Island was the first of its kind in the state when it was introduced in Kailua-Kona five years ago. While the pandemic put a strain on its counterpart in Honolulu, the Big Island program grew, West Hawaii Today reported Tuesday.

“We didn’t suffer at all during the pandemic,” said Jessica Thompson, executive director of Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii, or PATH. “We had the opposite experience as Honolulu’s bikeshare.”

Honolulu’s bikeshare, Biki, experienced a 50% drop in trips due to the pandemic. To deal with losses, it decommissioned seven stations and reduced services.

Rider rates on the Big Island started picking up in November 2020 and surpassed pre-pandemic levels, partly because of a rental car shortage, Thompson said.

Grants from Hawaii County allowed the nonprofit to offer free bikeshare membership to residents for three months for socially distanced exercise.

“We had over 700 residents sign up,” said Tina Clothier, PATH’s former executive director. “They logged thousands of rides. When the the tourists started coming back, rental cars were scarce and expensive, so our bikeshare program was incredibly busy.”

When the Big Island program started in 2016, there were three Kona stations and 32 bikes. It has grown to 130 bikes at seven stations in Kona and four in Hilo.

The Hilo stations don’t get as much ridership as in Kona, but they expect to see more once expanded to University of Hawaii-Hilo, Thompson said.

“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.”

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