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Bluebikes rentals surge throughout Orange Line shutdown

The city's bikeshare program saw record-breaking ridership in the last 30 days.

Boston, MA - 8/22/2022 A cyclist using a Bluebike passes by the Copley Square shuttle drop off on the first Monday after the MBTA shut down the Orange Line for service repairs on August 22, 2022. Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Bluebikes, Boston’s public bike sharing program, experienced record-breaking ridership numbers during the 30-day Orange Line shutdown. 

The Bluebikes program offers over 4,000 bikes at 400 stations across the city, stretching from Hyde Park into Malden, with many stations located along the MBTA’s Orange Line.

In August, the city of Boston offered a 30-day free Bluebike pass granting an unlimited number of 45-minute trips, waiving the $26.75 monthly pass fee. 

“Expanding access to bicycles is just one way the city is working to provide alternate routes of travel during this unprecedented shutdown,” Mayor Michelle Wu said in the announcement.

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The initiative went into effect August 19, the first day of the unprecedented month-long Orange Line shutdown. Many riders took advantage of the deal, as pass purchases jumped from 44 on August 18 to 4909 on August 19, according to information from the City of Boston.

“The City is proud to have been able to offer this alternative mode of free transportation for our residents and commuters during the Orange Line shutdown, consistently breaking ridership records over the past month,” a spokesperson from Mayor Michelle Wu’s office said in an email to Boston.com. “We have learned from these records that there is a high demand for biking as a mode of transportation.”

Bluebikes by the numbers

According to Bluebikes data, total rides between August 19th and the end of the month increased drastically compared to previous years. Since launching in 2015, Bluebikes has seen an average of about 103,825 rides in that 12-day span. In 2022, the total rose to 236,810 rides.

Stations situated on each end of the Orange Line also saw a jump in rides over the 12-day span. Since 2017, the Bluebikes station adjacent to the MBTA’s Green Street stop in Jamaica Plain has maintained an average of about 222 departing rides from August 19 to 31. In 2022, there were 564 departing rides. 

Further up the Orange Line, the Jackson Square Bluebikes station saw a similar increase. Located across the street from the Jackson Square MBTA stop, the bike station had an average of 333 departing rides from August 19 to 31 since 2017. In 2022, this number leaped to 758.

On the other end of the Orange Line, the West End Park Bluebikes station services commuters outside the MBTA’s busy North Station. The bike station has had about 192 departing rides from August 19 to 31 since 2017. In 2022, there were 313 departing rides. 

Beyond Bluebikes

The case for bicycles as an Orange Line alternative extends beyond the city’s initiatives — bike shop employees say Boston residents have been taking their personal bikes out for a spin, too.

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Caleb Petersen, a bike mechanic at Ferris Wheels Bike Shop, said the store saw an “absolute” increase in customers during the Orange Line shutdown. The store, which offers bike repairs, rentals, and maintenance, is located less than a mile from the Green Street station.

“We had an influx of people who needed their bikes fixed or just had questions about bikes. People definitely needed different transport after the T became unreliable,” he said.

Petersen explained that mid-August usually marks the end of the busy season for bike repairs — the store usually gets many more customers in the beginning of the summer. 

“People don’t usually come to get their bikes fixed at the end of August into fall, because it’s about to be winter,” he said.

Philip Coombs, who works in sales at Community Bike Supply, said that the shutdown coupled with the warm August weather brought a lot more traffic into the store, located half a mile from the Back Bay MBTA station.

“It beats taking the bus around,” Coombs said.

Moving forward

The need for an alternative mode of transportation lessened Monday as commuters boarded the Orange Line again. But it’s possible that biking is here to stay.

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Beyond free passes, the city’s Bluebikes expansion initiative included pop-up bike lanes, additional storage facilities, and learn-to-bike classes through October. According to Mayor Wu’s office, many of these are here to stay.

“Now that the shutdown has ended, the City is keeping the additional Bluebikes storage facilities installed over the last month and exploring options for free or low-cost bike share options,” the mayor’s office said.

For now, Bluebikes ridership continues to break records — the bikeshare program announced Monday that it saw its largest number of trips ever on September 17.

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