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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 25, 2016 6 years ago

Pedal power

Bike share programs aren't just for college towns. For one business, the Gulf Coast is fertile ground for expansion.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

For more than 20 years, CycleHop focused on consulting and operations assistance for bike share programs nationwide.

Now the company has bolder ambitions.

That includes running bike share programs, not just consulting. The city of Tampa was the guinea pig for the expansion, with a 10-year contract without requirements for taxpayer money. The company has since opened bike share programs in Orlando, Phoenix, Ottawa, Vancouver and several cities in California, including Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, North Hollywood and San Ramon. It has grown from one employee in Florida to more than 150 across the country.

With Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's support, and a partnership with manufacturer Social Bicycles, CycleHop officially launched Coast Bike Share in December 2014. The model is partially designed for riders, through different price packages, to use the bikes for what the industry calls the last mile — places public transportation might not serve. Coast Bike Share in Tampa ranges from $8 and hour to $15 a month, or $79 for an annual membership, which includes 60 minutes a day.

In its first year in Tampa, Coast Bike had 15,700 riders make 45,858 trips that covered 130,000 miles. With 300 bikes, the company opened 30 stations spanning Channelside, Ybor City, Davis Island, Hyde Park and downtown. Curtis Hixon, Tampa's downtown park, was the most popular bike station.

The bike share industry is less than six years old in the United States. Some bike share programs failed in early days, CycleHop Program Director Eric Trull says, because they adopted Europe's pricing models. “People realized that wasn't working, so we made it more user friendly,” adds Trull.

The company recoups some money from ridership, Trull says, a bit more than a bus system typically does, which tends to be around 40-60% of operational costs. CycleHop makes more money from partnerships with local businesses and sponsorships, he says.

Part of CycleHop's pitch to cities is access to data through the bikes. CycleHop partners with manufacturers that build bikes with GPS and other technology to provide detailed information on how each bike is used.

In New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago, for example, bike share programs have a “smart dock but dumb bike,” Trull says. “They know if the bike was ridden, but don't know what happens in between.”

With ride information coming from the bike itself, Coast Bike Share's data can help measure use of bike lanes or specific areas, like the expanding Tampa Riverwalk.

For new markets, the company looks at population density, with a goal to insert a station every quarter to half a mile. Connectivity to infrastructure is also important.

Coast Bike wants to expand to Tampa Heights and Westshore, in addition to launching in Sarasota and Bradenton. The company is also scheduled to go before the St. Petersburg city council in April, hoping for a fall launch to coincide with the new water ferry system to Tampa. “We're emphasizing that last mile, transportation Florida style by bike and boat,” Trull says.

Internally, there have been some lessons learned going back to the Tampa launch. It was delayed nearly 12 months while the group worked to secure funding and finalized manufacturing of an untested product. “We knew it was the best product, so it ended up working better for everyone in the end,” says Trull. “If you hit a road block, just keep pushing and you'll get over it.”

Spoke up
The benefits of a bike share program are far-reaching, says CycleHop Program Director Eric Trull. That ranges from health in the office to a new kind of one-on-one meeting. Here's how users can ride:

Check out a bike using the mobile app and a credit card. The mobile app provides a pin attached to a specific bike;

App monitors time and mileage of the rider, along with gas and energy savings;

Rider can take breaks by using the attached lock or end the trip by returning the bike to a hub location.

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