Boston Bluebike riders enjoy free passes, some eager for transportation improvements

Bluebike+station+on+Beacon+Street

Photo: Chloe Els

Bluebike station on Beacon Street

By Maeve Lawler and Chloe Els

Boston Bluebike riders reacted positively to free bike passes while voicing improvements they would like to see made in the city’s transportation. 

The City of Boston offered free 30-day Bluebike passes during the MBTA Orange Line shutdown, providing bikers with an unlimited number of 45-minute rides throughout a 30-day period. These free passes served as an attempt to alleviate travel stresses resulting from the Orange Line shutdown, taking place from Aug. 19 to Sept. 18. 

“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 a City of Boston press release from Aug. 25. 

Improvements to the Orange Line estimated to take over five years were condensed to a 30-day time period to enhance the speed and delivery process. Orange Line improvements included track repair, station upgrades, and signal upgrades. 

The shutdown “will allow departments across the Authority to make substantial improvements across the Orange Line,” said Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler in an MBTA press release on Aug. 8. “Not only will improvements made benefit Orange Line riders, but they will allow for an overall rehabilitated system that is safe and efficient for employees and neighboring communities.”

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“Thirty days of 24-hour access to the Orange Line replaces over five years of weekend diversions needed to address delays and slow zones,” stated MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak in the same press release. “We can eliminate slow zones, prevent unplanned service disruptions, and increase the reliability of our service. Perhaps most importantly, we will provide the quality of safety and service that our riders deserve.”

The Beacon interviewed various Bluebike riders at three stations near the Boston Public Garden. Riders discussed accessibility, safety, and road quality—ideals that serve as the basis of reliable public transportation.

Residents emphasized efficiency and safety as key attributes city officials should prioritize during their reformation of the public transportation system.

Joe believes public transportation could “always be more efficient,” in reference to Boston’s subway system. Governor Charlie Baker was quoted at an MBTA station in August saying that he believes the re-construction the Orange Line will “dramatically reduce some of the issues we have on the Orange Line.” Others, like West End resident Sophia, cited road quality, especially in the bike lanes, to be the city’s biggest issue.

“Having free Bluebikes means more people are using them and this really shows how poor the roads are kept,” she said. “I would like to see improvements in the bike lanes.” 

Others expressed concerns for rider’s safety as bike use increases, specifically noting the lack of helmets available at bike docks. 

“All these bike stations and none of them offer helmets,” Marcello said. “I think it’s pretty important. I wonder if there’s any way to integrate some sort of system where it’s not only required to use helmets, but also provide helmets somehow.”

All Bluebike users are required to sign a waiver before riding, in which they assume liability for any injury that may befall them while using Bluebikes, including “all risk of not wearing a helmet.” The National Library of Medicine reports that using bicycle helmets can reduce traumatic brain injury by 53%, and Massachusetts law requires people under 17 years old to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.

Despite feeling frustrated with a lack of safety and accessibility, many riders appreciate that Bluebikes were free during the shutdown.

“It’s cool that they’re free,” said Joe, a 22-year-old New Hampshire resident while acknowledging Bluebikes’ relatively “cheap” $2.50-per-half-hour rate prior to the free 30-day pass initiative.

The lack of price tag also increases the accessibility of the city’s Bluebikes, a benefit Sophia hopes to see more of given the reduced commuting time biking provides. 

“It would be great if there were free Bluebikes more often,” she said. 

For visitors, the bikes offer an alternative way to see Boston’s sights as opposed to the tried and true tourist traps.

Karen, who is visiting Boston from Columbia, also found that free Bluebikes are “pretty convenient.” “It just gives you a lot of freedom,” she said.

Joanna, a friend of Sophie’s visiting the city, agreed, saying they gave her a better tour of Boston than other options. 

“I probably wouldn’t have used the bikes if they weren’t free,” she said. 

Not all opinions were positive, however, as residents like John, an MIT student who recently moved to Boston, uses Bluebikes as his main mode of transport.

 “The bikes are busier now that they’re free,” he noticed, “so they’re a little harder to get now.”

Despite general agreement that transportation in Boston can be improved, especially in terms of road quality and the efficiency of the subway, most riders find Bluebikes to be a reliable option.

“[Bluebikes are] not the fastest or the safest in certain ways, but it’s more than enough for just getting around,” Karen said.