What’s the Plan: Bike share

The bike shares are coming! The bike shares are coming! But for real this time!

A long while back, Richmond announced it would implement a bike-share system downtown. The plan was to roll out the system ahead of the Big Bike Race™ for all to see and glory in while seeing and glorying alongside thousands of other like-minded bikers. Well, as with a few other City plans, the timing didn’t work out. We ended up with about eight total bikes at one station–more of a technology demo than anything else.

The Big Bike Race™ has come and gone, and now it’s time for real-deal implementation of our city’s first bike share program. Here’s the plan!

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What even is a bike-share system?

Basically rentable bikes. Stations containing a bunch of bikes are thoughtfully scattered across the city, and users pay at the station to rent one of the bikes, ride it around for awhile, and return it to another station. Bike shares solve a bunch of knotty “last mile” problems–like, say you wanted to plan a pub crawl along the BRT route, you could use the bike share system to get over to some of the more off-the-route places (like Strangeways). Or maybe it’s a lovely spring day and you just want to ride a bike to your next meeting but didn’t ride a bike to work. Or maybe you’re headed out for a night on the town and don’t want to deal with parking. That kind of stuff.

And you really do need to be thoughtful when choosing station locations: Too spread apart and the bikes are always a little too far away to be useful; too compact and there aren’t enough useful destinations for people to bike to. Take a look at the map of Minneapolis’s (successful) system to get an idea about station density.

So, what’s our bike-share system going to look like?

Richmond’s bike-share system will be provided by Bewegen. They’re a newish company to the bike-share world, but recently launched Birmingham, Alabama’s new Zyp BikeShare. The bikes look like this:

Bewegen bike

They’re definitely not sleek road bikes or aggressive mountain bikes. They’re cruisers that’d be perfect for running errands around town–which is great because that’s exactly what they’re for!1 They’re also “smart” bikes, so they’ve got all the bells (literal) and whistles (figurative) like GPS, a display for stats/info, and LED lights.

You’ll be able to find these guys docked at 20 stations around Richmond, mostly downtown and in the Fan. Here’s the proposed map of station locations that went out with the RFP:


Yes, that is more than 20 stations, but while balancing cost, quality, and size of the system, something had to give to stay within the budget.2 According to Jakob Helmboldt–the city’s Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Trails Coordinator–money exists for an expansion possibly as soon as next year after the winter slow season. So after this first round gets on the ground and the experts at Bewegen have had a chance to analyze a handful of months of useage data, they’ll have a better idea of where to unload Phase 2.

A bonus to all of the whizbang techonology embedded in each bike, is that the stations are fairly dumb, which makes picking them up and plopping them down (in more useful locations) a pretty simple process.

What’s it gonna cost me?

The goal for Richmond’s bike-share system is self sustainability through three source of revenue: 1) Sponsorship,3 2) Advertising on the stations, and 3) User fees.

The prices we, the users, will see have yet to be announced, but we can look at similar systems to get a ballpark. Here’s how Birmingham’s system works (remember, it’s by the same company that’s doing Richmond’s system):

  • $75 annual membership fee gets you unlimited rides, the first 45 minutes of which are free. After that there’s a $2 fee for the next 30 minutes, and after that there’s a $4 fee for each additional 30 minutes.
  • $6 day pass gets you unlimited rides for a single day, the first 45 minutes of each ride are included (same overage fees as above).
  • $20 week pass get you unlimited rides for a week, the first 45 minutes of each ride are included (same overage fees as above).

The simplest answer to “how much does it cost” is “six bucks.” Division tells me that if you plan on bike sharing once a month, it’s probably best to just get the annual membership.

City Council will have to approve the final costs.

Who’s in charge here?

Bike shares are way more involved than just throwing some bikes out onto the street and riding another, separate bike off into the sunset. You’ve got to account for bicycle maintenance, redistributing the bikes,4 customer support for all the technology bits, payment processing–all kinds of stuff. It’s a lot to take on. Luckily the fine folks at Bewegen are running the system for the first year through a 3rd-party company that they work with.5

When’s it gonna exist?

The City and Bewegen are working on branding as we speak. Usually it takes about five months to get all the pieces in the right places, so look for brightly-colored bikes (color TBD) and their stations to start popping up this summer.

Answers to random questions people told me to ask Jakob while I had him on the phone

Are there helmets? Actually, I wouldn’t ever put on a helmet that’d been on someone else’s head.

No, bike share is exclusively BYO Helmet.6

What happens if I get a flat tire?

You can ping the maintenance people from the app (or maybe even from the bike itself) and they’ll come out and fix it. In the mean time, you can walk yourself over to the nearest docking station and pick up a different bike.

Didn’t Aaron Williams write about bike share in his 100 Days project?

Yes, he did, one year before the Big Bike Race™. Hey, better late than never?

I already have a bike.

Cool! But even if you’re already a bike person, you can probably find room for bike share in your life. Did you carpool into work but want to bike home? Are you a boring old person and need to go home while your wild, young friends continue to party?

Man, if only there were a long PDF I could read for a couple hours about a success bike share system somewhere else in the country.

You are in luck! This Five-year Assessment & Strategic Plan from Minneapolis’s Nice Ride bike-share system is fascinating and totally readable.

This sounds great, how do I, like…do something?

When Bewgen launched in Birmingham, they had a “Shyfter” early adopter program. One would think they’ll have something similar in Richmond. Also keep an ear out for some good ol’ public meetings before the system launches–those are usually good places to get involved.

  1. Birmingham’s bikes have electric pedal assist that’ll help you pedal up all of Birmingham’s theoretical hills. Richmond’s bikes will not, but can be upgraded at a later date. 
  2. Funding has generously been provided by a grant from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program 
  3. In other cities, Birmingham and Minneapolis included, Big Healthcare has come on board to help sponsor the system. In return, the back wheel of each bike usually sports some healthcare industry branding
  4. People love riding bikes down hills, but not so much riding them up hills. Bike-share bikes tend to collect at the bottom and need to be redistribute by driving them around in a van. 
  5. Helmboldt tells me they’ll make it a priority to hire veterans. 
  6. Actually, helmet dispensers exist, and Seattle has big piles of free helmets due to their mandatory helmet law
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Ross Catrow

Founder and publisher of RVANews.

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