The following article was originally published by Adam Vaccaro on Boston.com on March 3rd, 2015.
For Joel Parker, the Hubway is just the easiest way to get to work. Even in the cold, snowy winter.
Parker lives in North Andover and works at Akamai Technologies in Kendall Square. He comes in to Boston’s North Station on the commuter rail. Taking the Green Line to Park Street, then jumping on the Red Line to Kendall Square is one option; walking to Charles/MGH for a quick train ride across the river is another; or, he can walk across the river to Lechmere, hop on a Hubway bike, and cut straight to Kendall.
Parker is one example of the Boston-area riders who have been using the bike-share system this winter. A February that will be best remembered for its record snow saw 144 Hubway rides per day, according to estimates provided by Hubway spokesperson Benjy Kantor. The system spent several days closed due to snow emergencies last month. With those days aside, it averaged about 194 rides.
Last week, on Wednesday, people took Hubway bikes for a spin 300 times, a February high. In January, Hubway registered about 255 rides per day, with a high of 526 on January 23.
Those are small-ish numbers considering that Hubway registered more than 1.1 million rides in all of 2014. That’s got a lot to do with the fact that in the winter, Hubway stations are only open in one of the four communities in which the system operates. Cambridge’s Hubway stations have stayed open for a second straight winter. Hubway stayed open in Boston through December 31, but closed in Somerville and Brookline after Thanksgiving.
A distinguishing factor of Hubway winter riders, then, is that they are people who need to get around—or at least through—Cambridge.
Those who are riding are also the types who may take the Hubway in other months: 93 percent of users in the winter season—defined as Thanksgiving through April—have been annual Hubway members, with only 7 percent taking out 24- or 72-hour passes, according to Kantor. Over the course of the rest of 2014, 75 percent of users were members, while 25 percent were taking bikes out short-term. That suggests, not surprisingly given the season and its weather, that the system is seeing far less tourism or joy ride use.
Parker, for example, describes himself as an avid cyclist. His membership with Hubway (subsidized by his employer, the $85 annual membership runs him $25) allows him to carry on his suburban biking when he steps off the commuter rail. He takes the Hubway close to every day, and he plans to handle his commute the same come spring, summer, and fall. It will be all the easier, he said, when the Boston stations come back online, and he can get a bike at North Station.
Some in-town bike commuters are also using the Hubway. Joseph Borkowski is a Somerville resident who works at Harvard. He owns a bike, and he rides to work daily. But he started making a 10-minute walk across the Cambridge-Somerville border to Porter Square after the snow started falling this winter. He said the advantage of riding a Hubway bike is that when his ride ends, it’s as simple as putting the bike in the Hubway docks, which Hubway has been keeping clear of snow throughout the season. On his personal bike, with several feet worth of snowbanks crowding bike posts, street signs, and other places to lock up, the price of membership has been worth the convenience.
Arlington resident Saul Jacobowitz, who works at the RunKeeper offices near North Station, is also a year-round bike commuter. In the winter, though, it’s more challenging to make that long haul, he said. RunKeeper provides all employees with a Hubway membership, so Jacobowitz made use of his for a while by hopping in the car and catching a ride with his wife, who drives to Harvard Square for work, and taking a Hubway bike in from there. However, when the Boston stations closed in late December and required him to walk from the edge of Cambridge into work, he started either taking the T from Harvard or strapping his own bike to the back of the car. (Unlike Borkowski, his office has indoor bike storage, so he doesn’t have to worry about the lock-up issue.)
But Jacobowitz has found use for Hubway since. Hubway bikes proved particularly useful for Jacobowitz during the public transit mayhem of February, he said, when he found himself waiting 15 minutes or longer for a train. It was quicker to walk back to Cambridge and take a Hubway bike to meet his wife at Harvard.
Both Borkowski and Jacobowitz said using Hubway has had another advantage over taking their own bikes to work in the winter. Road salt and wet roads don’t mix particularly well with bicycles, and keeping them clean and in good condition is a headache that Borkowski is happy to evade. “My bike’s worn out from the fall,” Borkowski said. “I’m happy to not have to worry about it.”
Overall, Hubway ridership is down from last year in January and February. In 2014, the two months saw 13,681 total rides compared to 11,938 this year.
This year actually saw an 18.8 percent year-over-year ridership increase in January, but a sharp fall-off for February of more than 40 percent. That may be partially traceable to the amount of snow on the ground. Last February, the system was offline for 62 hours due to the weather compared to 140 hours this year. And beyond availability, road conditions just haven’t been all that appealing for cycling in the last 30 days.
For most people, anyway.