PROVIDENCE — The price of Jump bikes jumped in Providence on Monday, jolting riders who had come to depend on the electric bike rental service.
Neri Franco, a 27-year-old University of Rhode Island student, said he was surprised and disappointed to find that the cost of renting the red bicycles had risen from $4.10 to $18 an hour — a 439 percent increase.
“It’s crazy,” Franco said as he pedaled from his home in Pawtucket to the Silver Star Bakery in Providence’s Fox Point neighborhood. “I’m definitely going to have second thoughts now.”
Since coming to Providence in September 2018, Jump bikes had cost $2 to unlock, with 30 minutes free and 7 cents per minute after that. So a 30-minute ride had cost $2 and a 60-minute ride had cost $4.10.
Beginning Monday, the 1,100 Jump bikes in Providence cost nothing to unlock, but they immediately cost 30 cents a minute. So a 30-minute ride costs $9 and a 60-minute ride costs $18.
“We want to build a viable operation in Providence that allows us to serve our riders for years to come,” Jump Bikes spokesperson Alix Anfang said. “To support that, we have introduced new pricing so we can continue to deliver environmentally efficient, clean, and reliable bikes with a sustainable business model.”
Jump Bikes, owned by Uber Technologies, rents out bikes in 29 cities worldwide, including 17 cities in the United States. In 2017, the City of Providence awarded a five-year contract to Jump Bikes to operate the bike-share program in the city, and Lifespan and Tufts Health Plan became system sponsors.
Reduced-rate “Boost” plans are still available to those who qualify, costing $5 for the first 12 months and $5 per month after that. With “Boost,” riders get access to 60 minutes of ride time per day. That plan is available to reduced-fare bus-pass holders, food-stamp recipients and households verified for free or reduced-price school lunches, for example.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Jump bikes have been “tremendously successful” in the city.
“While Jump has maintained the low-income Boost Plan, it is important to the city that they remain accessible to all residents and visitors,” spokesperson Benjamin N. Smith said. “City staff has expressed these concerns directly to Jump and will advocate that they re-evaluate these price changes. We will be keeping a close eye on ridership in the coming weeks to evaluate the impact on system usage.”
Sarah Mitchell, chair of the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, said Jump bikes have been a “wonderful thing” for the Providence area. The electrical boost helps people pedal up hills they might not be able to climb on their own, and “it has given mobility to a lot of people who don’t have mobility,” she said.
But, Mitchell said, “The price increase will probably price some people out of being able to rent them, and that is disappointing. We don’t want to see people discouraged from using bikes.”
Mitchell said she often rides by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Providence and sees a mother on a Jump bike, dropping off her daughter. So she hopes the price hike won’t deter that mother from biking her daughter to school in the future.
Katherine A. Prevost, an avid cyclist who lives in the city’s Federal Hill neighborhood, said she is concerned the price increase will turn a “sometimes convenient, alternative way to get around town” into “an expensive recreation option for people with more money than sense.”
Prevost travels to Boston a couple of times a week for work as a computer programmer and sometimes uses Jump bikes to get to the train station. But with the new prices, she said she will only rent the bikes in “dire emergencies.”
“A ride-sharing program is a great thing, but if people can’t afford it, they will go back to driving and not seeing as much of the city. That would be pretty sad,” Prevost said. “It’s important to the city to have more modes of transportation out there. And if private industry isn’t going to cut it, maybe we need to think of better ways to fund it.”
As he headed to the bakery for chocolate-chip cookies, Franco said a price hike would be understandable if Jump Bikes were offering new technology, but these are the same red bikes he rented last week. “So it’s basically just to improve their profit margins,” he said.
Franco, who doesn’t own a car, said he’ll have to consider other options now. “I’ll have to figure out if it’s cheaper to use Uber or to just give someone gas money,” he said. “It looks like a bus might be a better option.”