Episode 59: Bublr Bikes’ Boom in the Brew City
Bike Share programs have been popping up all over the U.S. In some cases, bike sharing has become necessary because motor traffic is too dense in the city, or there is a parking space shortage, like in Milwaukee. On this episode of Brandstorm, Executive Director Sally Sheperdson talks about the bike share program in Milwaukee, called Bublr. Started in 2014, Bublr’s affinity and awareness in the community is through the roof.
The concept of bike sharing is simple enough. Anyone can pick up a bike at a bike station, ride it to anywhere in the city, then return it to a bike station, where someone else can use the bike again.
According to Sally, Bublr was the brainchild of three locals. Two are avid bikers and the other is a community organizer. Bike share programs have a variety of funding models, but they wanted Milwaukee’s to be a nonprofit…a program of and for the community.
The original name was Midwest Bike Share, which was incorporated legally with the IRS, but everyone wanted something different…a name that was short, catchy and memorable. With the help of local ad agencies and marketing professionals, the second name they came up with was Mke Bikes. It still wasn’t good enough. The group eventually agreed on Bublr, which is an insider reference to something only Milwaukeeans would know (water fountains are affectionately called bubblers in this town). It also links the program to water, something Milwaukee has in abundance. Even the color, which is a signature Robin egg blue (Wisconsin’s official state bird), connotes water.
The Milwaukee area currently has 87 bike stations and 700 bikes, however, with additional grants, Sally says they should have more than 1,000 bikes by 2020. Ninety percent of the funding for Bublr comes from the four municipalities it serves, including Milwaukee, the Village of Shorewood, Wauwatosa, and West Allis. Each community has received federal dollars from grants that stem from clean air and alternative transportation initiatives. The remaining 10 percent comes from corporate donations and promotion. Since Bublr is a non-profit, it is not able to charge the true cost of the program, so prices range from $4 for 30 minutes to $15 for a monthly pass with unlimited 60-minute rides to $80 for the year. An $8 access pass is available to participants in Milwaukee’s food share and housing authority programs and a 24-hour, $24 pass has recently been launched. Bublr has also come up with an integrated transit pass for the bus and bikes call Buslr.
While there have been a few thefts and some vandalism to the bikes, Sally says it is rare. People recognize the blue bikes as Bublr and will report where they are when they see them. The kiosks also have computers that let the Bublr shop know when bikes should come in for maintenance, and if anyone runs into any trouble, like a flat tire, all they need to do is text Bublr and someone will come and get them.
Looking to the Future
Sally says her main goal is sustainability and growth. A national statistic claims the best distance between bike stations is 1500-ft. because most people don’t want to walk any farther. That leaves a lot of room for growth in Milwaukee. And unfortunately, federal funding only goes to communities that apply for the grants, so there are a lot of gaps between cities.
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