Bloomington residents discuss hopes and concerns for bike share program



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Dock-less bikes park next to a docking station for Capital Bikeshare, in Washington, D.C. Bloomington city officials will work with South Bend, the first city to implement a dock-less bikeshare program in Indiana, as it works to create a bikeshare program in Bloomington. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Bloomington residents gathered Monday night to discuss the potential merits and drawbacks of an upcoming bike share program for the city.

Residents test-rode various bikes through the corridors of city hall and posed questions to bike share planners.

The project will have an initial pool of 150 bikes, but the city hopes it will expand to one for every 100 residents.

Jane St. John, a consultant to the city most widely known for setting up Bloomington’s recycling program, said though bike share programs like this one have traditionally been difficult to implement, Bloomington has high hopes.

“We’re doing this very differently now than we would have done it a year ago,” St. John said.

She explained that most cities are moving away from the use of what she calls expensive and inconvenient docking stations.

“The con of the docks, of course, are that if you try to return the bike at the end of your ride and the docking station is full, then you have to go around until you find another one,” she said.

Of the 17 different styles of bikes currently being considered by the city, all of them have the technology to be locked up without a docking station. 

St. John said Bloomington is working closely with South Bend, Indiana, the first city in the state to implement the dock-less bike share, to understand its merits and challenges.

Jeanne Smith, owner of the Bloomington-based bike shop Bikesmiths, had some questions regarding the proposed program.

“We are here — the biking industry is here,” she said. “I have eight employees. It’s not a huge profit margin business. It’s a difficult business to get through the winter, that sort of thing.”

Smith asked about the potential of a bike share program to harm local bike businesses. She said she read some worrying statistics about that possibility.

“In some of these bike shares, people who had not ridden before are encouraged to ride because the entry barrier is so low,” St. John replied. “This means that the whole universe of people buying bikes would grow.”

One of the potential vendors, Veoride, brought bikes to the meeting for the public to test out. 

Veoride’s business model involves an app that can be used to locate bikes and scan a QR code and unlock any Veoride bike. It's linked to the user’s credit card and charges them 50 cents per 15 minutes of ride time. 

Candace Xie, one of the founders of West Lafayette-based Veoride said their average ride lasts under ten minutes in West Lafayette. 

Xie said her and her business partner Edwin Tan recognized a need for a bike share in West Lafayette during their senior year studying at Purdue University. 

St. John said the city is still looking into whether the larger bike share companies will collaborate with local companies on this endeavor.

“We want to go into this with an open mind but also thinking about how to address some of these challenges before they happen,” she said.

Smith also asked the vendors about fees associated with damaging the rented bikes, helmet etiquette and potential technological issues.

Ofo, China’s largest bike share company and a potential vendor to Bloomington, opts to absorb the cost of damaged bikes at no cost to the user.

Xie said if Veoride is chosen as the vendor for Bloomington, free helmets will be made available at city hall, but the bikes themselves will not have helmets with them.

St. John said this is because many people have concerns regarding the sanitation of helmet sharing.

As far as potential technological issues go, Xie said riders will still be able to lock your bike up — returning it and ending the payment period — even if their phone is out of battery.

The city hopes to lock down a vendor by early January and implement the bike share in whole by the end of Indiana University’s spring break.

"They anticipate having things set up after spring break in hopes that students may ride the bike share bikes and elect not to bring their own bike back to campus next semester," St. John said.

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