Bike share sees increased ridership numbers, though ‘there are always ways to improve’
Selina Gallegos has a routine when she grabs a bike from the Summit County Bike Share system.
“I check the tires, check the pedals, check the brakes,” Gallegos said.
Each step comes from experiences she’s had with the fleet’s e-bikes.
Nearly every day after work in warmer months, Gallegos looked forward to using the bike share, logging more than 500 miles this year alone. She said she’s checked out bikes that don’t have functioning brakes, have flat tires or rapidly deteriorating batteries, and some that have literally fallen apart. That’s when she’s able to find a bike to check out in the first place.
On one October evening, Gallegos checked out a bike and made it a couple hundred yards before a pedal fell off — the second time that’s happened to her, she said.
“I had to walk back over and pick up the pedal from the middle of the road,” she recalled good-naturedly. “I just kind of coasted down and I held the pedal in the basket. Just rode the right foot around and around.”
Despite the periodic challenges, Gallegos is quick to say how much she loves the program.
“That is my respite,” Gallegos said.
But she said she wishes more bikes were available and that they were kept in better condition.
Caroline Rodriguez, Summit County’s regional transportation planning director, was sorry to hear about Gallegos’ experiences, but said the problem isn’t a lack of mechanics fixing the bikes. Rather, it’s a surplus of users.
“If you’re going to have an issue, that’s a good issue to have,” she said. She added that more bikes, more stations and more mechanics would help the system, but those are expensive.
The system launched in 2017 and has been used for 107,000 rides since then, covering nearly a quarter million miles.
Its high-water mark came in 2018, with nearly 40,000 rides. That dropped to 13,300 last year, amid widespread issues with bike availability and a weather-shortened season, prompting the CEO of the Montreal-based company that oversees the program to fly to Summit County to explain how the bike share system would be improved.
Rodriguez manages the contract for Summit County, and she reports that she has seen major improvements this year, especially in communicating with the logistics staffers who tend the fleet on a daily basis.
There have been about 22,400 rides in 2020, nearly double the 2019 numbers, but well off the first two years, which averaged about 36,000 rides per year.
Last year’s numbers were impacted by a long ski season that caused a late start, and logistical and management issues that led to relatively few bikes being ready to go when the weather warmed.
There were 80 bikes on the road last September, Rodriguez has said, the same number that were ready to go in the early weeks of June.
At its peak in July, 163 bikes were available for use; Rodriguez has said there are 190 bikes in the entire fleet.
But users like Gallegos report that the bikes that show up on the bike share app as ready to use often can’t be checked out, with a depleted battery, an error message that they’re in an “invalid state” or for other, unknown reasons.
She said she rides nearly every day and that about twice a week she has a frustrating experience with a broken or non-functioning bike. Those bikes appear available to check out on the app, but she said she’ll often have to take a bus to two or three stations to find a usable bike.
Rodriguez said the system has seen an extra 1,500 active members compared to 2019 and the new app is a dramatic improvement over the previous version.
She said more mechanics might help with issues that riders like Gallegos have experienced, but the bikes are used so frequently that problems can arise quickly. Plus, the e-bikes are seldom left in a docking station long enough to get a full charge.
The docks connect to the internet to interface with the app, and sometimes they struggle with connectivity issues. Rodriguez reported the system switched internet providers this year, and said that might help solve some interface issues.
She added that the program managers have been much more responsive than in the past and even than they’re required to be, and it’s clear to her that they want to see the system work.
They’ve been aided by a new manager who recently came on board with a background in logistics, she said.
“Could there be improvements? Of course, there’s always ways to improve,” Rodriguez said. “Would more money be helpful? Of course. Would we love for everybody to have a fully charged functional bike every time they want it? Of course.”
The program has cost about $1.5 million so far, Rodriguez has said, with a federal grant picking up about half that total and the county and Park City splitting the rest. Much of that has come from transportation tax revenue, she added, and the program has private sponsors.
The bikes are gone from Park City for the season to create space for snow storage, but Rodriguez said bikes would remain available in the Snyderville Basin as long as the weather allows.
Gallegos said she thinks the system is wonderful and could benefit from a few tweaks. She loves the idea of cruising around the Snyderville Basin and said she routinely rides a dozen or 20 miles a night.
“I don’t want to put a negative cast on this wonderful bike share program that could just be so good if they just had more maintenancing,” she said.
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