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CenturyLink Center, site of 2016 Olympic Team Trials in Omaha.
CenturyLink Center, site of 2016 Olympic Team Trials in Omaha.

Bike Share Boom, Bike Share Bust: A Quikbyke Solution

"To be a world class city, you need to have a bike share program." As a city, maybe struggling with finances, it's also an expensive undertaking costing millions of dollars. What if the risk could be dramatically lowered, along with the cost?

This week, the City of Seattle decided to terminate their Pronto bike share system just months after spending more than $1 million to bail it out. Instead, they will use the $3 million they had originally allocated to operate the system and convert it to electric bikes to improve the city's pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, so it's not a total loss.

What Seattle discovered is that bikes share systems aren't a slam dunk financially. In fact, most require some amount of public subsidy as noted by Pew Charitable Trust research.

As Bill Dossett, the executive director of the Twin Cities’ bike share program, Nice Ride Minnesota, points out, "To be a world class city, you need to have a bike share program."

But such programs are expensive, estimated at $4-5,000 per bike, which generally also includes the docking station and kiosk system. To even get off the ground, they usually require a major corporate underwriter: Seattle had Alaskan Airlines. But that doesn't guarantee success or long-term viability, for that matter, as Pew's study reveals. Washington D.C.'s Capital bike share subscriber and rental revenues only cover 77% of its $7.2 million operating costs; and it's one of the more successful programs. New York's Citibike needed an infusion of $41 million from Citibank for five years before it could launch. The new electric bike share system in Birmingham, Alabama got $1.6 million in federal dollars and another $2.2 million donated by local corporate contributors.

And then there's Seattle's soon-to-be defunct Pronto, which was $1.2 million in debt when the city took it over. Exactly why it failed is still being debated: Seattle's soggy climate, management problems, the city's new helmet-required law. Bottom line, it was a very expensive experiment, one that's left taxpayers holding the bag and Bewegen, the Canadian company that was lined up to provide the electric-assist bicycles, well… out in the cold.

Among the newest bike share systems to kick off (in a positive sense) is in St Petersburg, Florida, one of the jewels of the Florida Gulf Coast. Their system, called - appropriately - Coast, is reportedly off to a "promising start" with its launch last Fall. But the city had to come up some $1.5 million for its share, using $250,000 of funds from BP "Deep Water Horizon" settlement money. The rest of the original $1 million settlement went to repair the city's sewer system, which is periodically overwhelmed by hurricanes and climate change-aggravated tropical deluges.

So as trendy and desirable as it is, buying into bike share is a considerable gamble for any community to take.

What if, instead, there were a little or no risk, relatively low cost way to at least test the bike share concept for a few months first to see if this is something residents and visitors will buy into?

That's what Quikbyke is now exploring. What we envision for a considerably smaller up-front investment, a small city or town would authorize the placement of one or more of our solar-powered electric-assist bicycle Qiosks to first test the market. Each repurposed 20 ft shipping container holds up to a dozen state-of-the-art electric assist bicycles, the same number of bikes found in a conventional bike share station, but unlike those, our bikes also offer riders quiet, clean electric-assistance when and where they want it.

We currently envision them operating on a trial basis for 4-6 months during the cycling season appropriate to that community's climate zone, at the end of which, Quikbyke would share the data, giving city leaders and planners a better sense of what public interest is in bike sharing. Our ability to easily relocate each container on the back of a standard rollback car transporter, also gives the city the opportunity to test different locations. And because each Qiosk is entirely solar powered, it doesn't need any external power source, just about 20 square meters of access to sunshine and a good cellular signal. It's about as clean and green a transportation mode as humanly possible.

This past summer, we successfully trialled the system here in Omaha on an undeveloped lot across from the site of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Trials. Among our earliest renters were the families of two eventual gold medal winners in Rio. We found that not only did everyone love the experience, but that we attracted equal numbers of women and men from Millennials to Generation Xers, and yes, even the odd Baby Boomers. You can see some of their photos on our Flickr photo gallery.

While we're still hashing over the details, we'd love to hear from communities that might be interested in exploring our "Try It Before You Buy It" approach to bike sharing.

You can reach me at bill(dot)moore(at)quikbyke(dot)com.

Posted By: Bill Moore [17-Jan-2017]

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