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Bluebikes could expand into Arlington, Watertown, Newton, Chelsea, and Revere

The expansion of the Boston region’s dominant bike-share system could roll out as soon as this spring, but there are funding challenges

A row of identical-looking bikes parked a bike-share kiosk on a city sidewalk. Shutterstock

Bluebikes could expand this spring into Arlington, Watertown, Newton, Chelsea, and Revere.

The municipalities are negotiating with the 9-year-old bike-share system—which Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and Everett own—and its operator, app-hail giant Lyft, as well as with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

The MAPC had been coordinating a dockless bike-share for 16 Boston-area municipalities—including Arlington, Watertown, Newton, Chelsea, and Revere—through micromobility firm Lime, which provided the bikes for free. But that ended in this month as Lime shifted its focus to electric scooters.

Lime’s move left Bluebikes as the only major bike-share in the entire region. Right now, it operates more than 3,500 conventional bikes via 325 stations that charge riders fees for using the vehicles. Bluebikes’ last major expansion was into Everett in June 2019, with 12 stations, though it also added dozens of stations last year in previously underserved Boston neighborhoods such as Mattapan, Roslindale, and Dorchester.

Arlington, Watertown, Newton, Chelsea, and Revere would each get five Bluebikes stations under the current expansion plan, according to Eric Bourassa, director of MAPC’s transportation division. The expansion could roll out as soon as the weather warms, he said. But funding hurdles remain.

Bourassa said that Lyft has offered each municipality $100,000, provided they each come up with $100,000 of their own for the expansion. Some of the cities and towns are seeking Massachusetts Department of Transportation grants to come up with that money.

Bourassa said that the interested parties are planning to meet at the end of January for further negotiations. “It’s still kind of a work in progress,” he said.

Lyft’s lease for operating Bluebikes expires two years from this April, though it has the option to renew for several more years. A renewal would seem a no-brainer for the firm. Bluebikes ridership has boomed—the system recorded more than 10,000 rides in a single day for the first time last June—and the competition has peeled away over the past 18 months.

Lime joined Ofo, Spin, and Ant in either abandoning operations or plans for operations in the Boston region. Lyft-run Bluebikes’ only real competition comes from a handful of Zagster stations in Salem and Marlborough.

“As the largest bike-share operator in North America,” Lyft said in an email, “Lyft is committed to expanding convenient, sustainable, and healthy transportation options. We are discussing bike-share expansion with additional local partners in the Boston region and excited by the possibility to bring bike-share to more communities.”

Bluebikes said in a message that it did not have “any public plans” regarding an expansion, and directed us to its blog, where the system usually announces such moves.