The city is set to pedal into new territory with the launch of a bike-sharing program as soon as this fall.
Today, a City Council committee agreed to move ahead with a program by piggy-backing on a contract the City of Tampa signed with two companies to provide bikes for its planned program.
If approved by the full council, as many as 300 bikes equipped with GPS and automatic-locking systems could begin appearing at existing bike racks in St. Petersburg. As many as 30 bike kiosks would also be installed that could provide helmet rentals.
Initially, the program would be offered only in downtown St. Petersburg. If successful, it would expand to other areas of the city to make rental bikes available in areas where bike trails run through the city.
“The City of Tampa is launching a bike share program with 32 miles of trails; we have 112,” said Cheryl Stacks, the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator.
The program would not cost the city a dime, city officials said. Social Bicycling and CycleHop, the companies contracted to run the Tampa program, would pay for the bikes and kiosks. The companies would make their money through rental fees and advertising on the bikes.
Rental prices have yet to be ironed out but likely would be similar to prices set for the Tampa program. Commuter passes would be about $80 and would include a free 30 minutes per day. Prices for tourists or occasional riders could be about $5 per hour or $25 per day.
Bike-share programs have been lauded as a way to reduce traffic congestion, pollution and promote a healthier lifestyle. Dozens of programs have sprung up in cities across the United States and in Europe.
So far, Florida has been slow to follow suit, but programs are underway in Miami Beach and Broward County. Orlando is scheduled to begin its program in the summer of 2014.
Eckerd College introduced a free bike program about 10 years ago. The college provides about 100 yellow bikes for use by students, faculty and visitors around campus.
Newer programs have used technology to overcome the problems, including vandalism and theft, that hamstrung earlier programs.
St. Petersburg’s program would use bikes that include GPS technology that enables them to be located, if stolen, and for popular usage areas to be tracked. Because the bikes are self-locking, the city would be able to use existing bike racks rather than expensive custom racks some cities have adopted, Stacks said.
“We’ve added over 100 bike racks in last four years,” Stacks said.
The main concern of council members was that the city could be liable if riders who did not use helmets were injured in crashes.
The city would be protected because the program is run by a private entity, Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn said. Additionally, Social Bicycling would be required to carry insurance and to name the city as an insured party.
A bike-sharing program would enhance the city’s downtown and help attract new residents, said Councilman Steve Kornell, who requested the city start such a program.
“This is the kind of program that young, energetic, creative professional like to have in their city,” Kornell said. “I’m happy to see it move forward.”