CITY HALL — In late 2013, CycleHop was boasting plans open a 500-bike bikeshare in Phoenix by early 2014. They’d add 500 in Tempe and Mesa by the spring, they told the Phoenix New Times.
They had plans to bring 300 bikes to Tampa by this time last year. In Ottawa they planned to open by the end of this past summer, maybe sooner, they told the Ottawa Citizen.
In Orlando they’d add 200 bikes by the spring, to coincide with the launch of Central Florida’s commuter rail, with more coming after the launch.
“That’s the goal, to get bikes on the ground before SunRail gets here,” CycleHop’s program director told the New York City radio station WNYC in 2013.
SunRail opened in May but no bikeshare.In fact, in all of those cities CycleHop’s bikeshare system is still “coming soon.”
Bike stations are popping up around Phoenix but there’s still no launch date. Tampa may have a ribbon cutting later this month. Orlando could open its system by the end of the year. Ottawa’s won’t launch until at least the spring.
Tonight, City Council will consider authorizing a $10.4 million contract with CycleHop to add a 500-bike system in the city by the sea.
In its report to council, sounding a lot like planners in Orlando, city planners say they’d like the bikeshare in place before the incoming Expo Light Rail stations open in early 2016. But, given CycleHop’s history, is this feasible?
The Daily Press reached out to CycleHop and City Hall last week. City officials said they’d make CycleHop representatives available for comment after council makes a decision on the contract.
Bikeshares allow riders to check-out bikes from one station and drop them off at any other station in the city.
There are key differences between the agreement CycleHop has with these other cities and the one proposed for Santa Monica.
In the case of Orlando, Phoenix, Tampa, and Ottawa, CycleHop is basically operating on its own, without much help from taxpayers.
“Our skin in the game was offering up appropriate public right-of-ways for bikeshare kiosks and coordinating the permitting of that,” said Jean Duncan, Tampa’s director of Transportation (and Stormwater Services). “We didn’t have a financial rolein this. We see it as their business and their business model.”
This meant that CycleHop was alone in searching for corporate sponsorship and figuring out pricing for user fees.
In Santa Monica’s case, taxpayers and federal grants would pay CycleHop for installation and operation while city officials take on the task recouping those costs through fees and corporate sponsorship.
With that upfront payment to CycleHop, City Hall will likely be in a better position to demand punctuality.
Duncan and Orlando’s spokesperson Cassandra Lafser both agreed that because their agreements involved no public dollars, there was less pressure to hit deadlines.
“Part of it was a conscientious decision on their part — and we agreed — to hold off because of bike technology changes that were really a better product than what they started out with,” Duncan said.
Lafser had similar thoughts.
“We feel that there is a delay because of that technology upgrade,” she said, “but certainly our program will have an advantage once it does launch because of that aspect.”
Cynthia Rose, who heads Santa Monica Spoke, a bicycle advocacy group, is psyched for this new technology. She called CycleHop “the bikeshare of the future.”
The delays don’t worry her.
“I think that bikeshares, in every city that they have gone into, have been delayed at some point,” she said. “There are so many moving parts.”
Stability has been an issue for many bikeshare companies.
The reason that CycleHop is installing in Ottawa is because the city’s previous vendor, Bixi, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
Alta Bike Share, which owned many of the country’s largest bikeshare systems, was bought last month. The operator of New York City’s Citi Bike and Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare had been struggling with financial challenges, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year.
Monica Hernandez, the spokesperson for Phoenix’s Street Transportation Department, said that delays are par for the course when opening a bikeshare system.
“It’s really the nature of the whole program,” she said. “It’s new to us. It’s an endeavor that we’re working closely, hand-in-hand, with CycleHop. We are at a stage where we are getting very close to opening a system so we’re excited.”
Duncan said that despite the delays, Tampa is glad they stuck with CycleHop.
“I’m sure they’ve burned many candles at both ends making it happen but they’ve been very positive throughout the whole experience of it,” she said. “I would say that they were obviously way off on the timeframe but it’s kind of a new animal out there so I can see why it went on as long as it did.”
Metro has asked Santa Monica to hold off on approving the contract with CycleHop. Metro is planning its own regional bikeshare and would like Santa Monica’s to integrate. City planners recommend council against waiting because $2 million in grants will expire if they do.
If Tampa is any indication, Santa Monica might benefit from jumping the gun.
St. Petersburg, across the bay, is looking to add a CycleHop system so that it can integrate with Tampa’s, Duncan said. The University of South Florida in Tampa, she said, is doing the same thing.