At the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting held yesterday, approximately half of the meeting was spent listening to a presentation from Joe Ancel representing River Riders Bike Share, a bike share program in Wisconsin Rapids that completed its first year of operation this past summer. I will summarize key points of this presentation below.
Otherwise, the meeting touched on the status of several efforts in progress. Most notable among the remaining agenda was that the BPAC chose the date of March 3 for a public workshop to prioritize recommendations from the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. The portions of the plan specific to Stevens Point will need to be staged over a number of years, and the BPAC is looking for guidance on which recommendations to implement sooner and which later.
In attendance at yesterday’s meeting, besides the four committee members (there is currently a vacancy on the committee – see this post to learn how you can fill this seat on the BPAC), there were seven members of the public and city officials.
The next meeting of the BPAC was announced for January 19 at 10 AM.
River Riders Bike Share
Ancel gave an overview of how RRBS set up its bike share program in Wisconsin Rapids as well as a few lessons they learned during their first year of operation.
The lead organization for RRBS is the Wood County Health Department. A small amount of grant money was available, but RRBS generally had a skeletal budget to work with.
Among the biggest efforts to get RRBS started was making a fleet of bicycles ready. RRBS got donations of dozens of bicycles from individuals and from their local law enforcement agencies clearing out their unclaimed bicycles. A collection of volunteers from several local institutions was employed to paint the bicycles a signature cranberry color. Painting was an enormous effort, since bicycles needed to be stripped and cleaned before painting and then reassembled afterwards.
At the end of this effort, about two dozen bicycles were available for use. These were generally single speed bikes to simplify maintenance. Each bike provided a quick release on the seat tube for easy seat height adjustment. The serial number stamped into each bicycle was registered with local law enforcement.
RRBS decided on a bike share system utilizing four sites in Wisconsin Rapids: Hotel Mead, the eastside YMCA, the westside Quality Foods grocery, and Riverview Hospital. Six bikes were available at each site, and staff at each site was trained on how to administer the program. Racks were purchased to make the bikes easily accessible at each site.
A publicity drive informed the public of this bike share program and how to use it. Any individual could check a bicycle out for 24 hours. No fees were collected, although users did have to fill out a waiver form for liability reasons. Bicycles could be returned to any site, although Ancel mentioned that in most instances, people returned their bicycle to the same location from which they checked it out. An online app was used for the checkout and checkin procedure so that at any time, administrators could identify where all the bikes were.
U-locks were donated for the program, but Ancel stated these were inconvenient because they could not use a universal master key to unlock them. For next year, RRBS is considering using cable locks to address this inconvenience.
The bikes first became available for use late in the spring. One of the biggest challenges was to keep up with maintenance for the bikes once the program got started. I asked Ancel whether they were able to have a skilled mechanic examine the work of volunteers doing such routine maintenance. He told me that they were not and that RRBS realizes they need to do better with this next year.
Over the course of the season, Ancel stated that a few of the bicycles went missing. This happened due to bicycles being checked out that were never checked back in. Most of those missing were not recovered. Ancel related one story where someone informed RRBS that they saw one of their cranberry-colored bicycles being offered at a nearby garage sale.
Storage space was needed for the surplus donated bicycles as well as for off-season storage of the bike share bikes. A place to work on these bikes was also required. RRBS was able to identify a local company who let them use part of their unused warehouse space for this purpose. Through another donation, RRBS obtained a bike stand and a collection of bike tools for their maintenance needs.
Ancel certainly gave the impression of success for the first year of RRBS. He said that RRBS plans to expand the number of bike share sites for next year. I asked for data on the number of people that used their bicycles over the season. Unfortunately, he did not have that information available.
I applaud RRBS for their successful first year and wish them the best as they prepare for next year.
I will end with a few impressions I took away from this presentation.
- The RRBS model seems a hybrid between a more typical bike share system used to augment a local transportation network and a bike rental system geared toward recreation and tourists.
- Because most people returned bicycles to the same place they checked them out from, RRBS avoided one of the most difficult aspects to manage for a bike share system: the need to rebalance bicycles if one location acquires too many or too few bicycles. This issue becomes more problematic as the number of sites grows.
- Bike share systems that rely on some sort of honor system to diminish the problem of theft have historically seen an unmanageable number of missing bicycles. RRBS apparently was not immune to this trend during their first year. Changing from U-locks to cable locks for next year could make their system more susceptible to theft because any cable – regardless of thickness – can be snipped within a few seconds with a readily available and easily portable cable cutter.
If Stevens Point is considering replicating the bike share system used in Wisconsin Rapids, our city needs to decide if their bike share model aligns with our vision for a small bike share system. We would also need to make certain that efforts toward bicycle rebalancing, theft prevention, and in-season routine maintenance would be manageable for our program.
If we can manage these issues, RRBS could be a viable model for Stevens Point to emulate in creating our own bike share system.