Boston’s bike share program, Hubway, has been heralded as a success despite its many failings. I am an avid supporter of bike share systems in cities when installed properly, but Hubway continues to disappoint. From station placement to slow installation timetables, Alta – the company operating Hubway – has been reluctant to offer up specifics or explanations.
Spring 2012 was to mark the second year of Hubway, and was to be ushered in with an expansion into Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville when the system relaunched following its winter closure. However, it wasn’t until the last day of July that Hubway finally launched in Cambridge, with half the cycling season well over. And even then, the launch was slow, with just a few stations opening around Harvard Square and Central Square.
Once the Cambridge docking stations opened, the system was still lacking any stations away from the two MBTA stations, which is how most people use Hubway: to get to or from a work place or home which is not near a MBTA station. Up until roughly 30 days ago, Cambridge still only had 11 Hubway stations with eight of which being clustered around the Harvard, Central, and Kendall MBTA stations. In the time since, Alta has installed eight infill stations to cover gaps, but at this point there is perhaps only two months left before the system is packed up for the winter.
Meanwhile, the city of Brookline has a mere three Hubway stations, and Somerville – perhaps one of the biggest cycling communities in the country – is still left with only four stations. In addition, glaring holes in Hubway’s coverage of the Boston region exist in the neighborhoods of East Cambridge, Cambridgeport, North Brookline, and South Boston, among other smaller areas lacking coverage despite being encompassed by docking stations at a distance.
While any progress at all is always encouraging, the slow and scattered method at which it happens seems almost useless. While many are taking advantage of Hubway’s expansions, problems persist within the existing coverage area, including stations being continuously full or continuously devoid of bikes. If Alta cannot properly maintain their bicycle fleet and inventory of stations, money is being lost and we have yet to see Hubway’s true user capacity. There is also a lack of station connectivity to the MBTA in certain locations, especially downtown, where all four core stations (exception to Government Center) lack a Hubway dock.
I still hold hope that the next relaunch in spring 2013 will be swifter and more methodical than we’ve seen thus far. I would also hope that stations do not disappear unannounced, as some did across Boston upon this year’s relaunch. Hubway is an ingenious addition to Boston’s environment; here’s looking to continued improvement.