Summit Bike Share has seen sharp decline in riders. Staffing and maintenance issues are partly to blame.
The third year of the Summit Bike Share program has had its ups and downs.
On the plus side, it finally received a huge federal grant that allowed it to more than double the number of stations in the Snyderville Basin, purchased 60 new bikes to bring the total near 200 and implemented safety measures to respond to feedback from the public.
But the program has struggled to keep bikes on the road, with the availability of parts and the number of mechanics limiting how the fleet is serviced. When the program launched this May, only about half of the bikes were road-ready.
Ridership numbers have plummeted, with about 11,000 trips taken this year as of Friday. That’s roughly the same as the month of June alone last year, and about 28,000 fewer trips than in 2018.
Caroline Rodriguez, who oversees the program for Summit County, said there’s a combination of factors at play, including the late start to summer, but the main factor is the lack of working bikes.
Rodriguez, who is also the county’s regional transportation planning director, said the contract holder misrepresented the state of the fleet and allowed it to sit dormant over the winter without work being done. That was discovered by a supervisor from the contract holder who visited near the end of winter to make sure the program was ready to go. It wasn’t.
“We put our faith in some staff — staff said they were on top of it,” Rodriguez said. “All of our check-in calls, nothing was amiss. We were ready to go. Then we weren’t.”
The way the system works is the contract-holder, Montreal-based Bewegen, receives all the revenue from riders and hires a third party for logistical support, like moving bikes around and maintaining the fleet.
That contractor is called Corps Logistics, a New Jersey-based firm that specializes in installing and operating community bike-sharing logistics, according to its website.
Multiple calls and emails to Corps Logistics went unreturned, and a scheduled interview did not occur. Bewegen provided ridership numbers but did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
In May, about 60 bikes out of roughly 130 were ready to go, despite assurances to the county that the situation was in better shape.
“In fact, they didn’t even have the proper parts and weren’t doing routine maintenance on the bikes, so they sat in the offseason,” Rodriguez wrote in an email. “Once we realized what was going on, we had to re-organize the warehouse, inventory, and order multiple shipments of new parts.”
As of early September, about 80 bikes were on the road, with 35 in the Jeremy Ranch warehouse ready to be launched, Rodriguez said.
The mechanically assisted bikes use parts that are specially made and can take months to deliver. The program also sometimes uses local bike shops to help maintain the fleet, but that requires special training and the contractors haven’t had enough staff to train local mechanics.
Rodriguez pointed to the difficulty of finding and maintaining staff as a key factor in the program’s struggles. She said the contractors have two staff members on the ground now, but have been advertising job listings and need more than five employees.
She expects a big shipment of parts to come in on Tuesday. If the weather holds out, she’s optimistic the full fleet of bikes will be operational by the end of this season. If not, she said she’s certain they’ll be ready come next spring.
Ultimately, Rodriguez said, the responsibility for the program is hers.
“I’m not saying they screwed up,” she said. “The buck stops with me.”
She oversees the contract and suggested, with hindsight, she could have done site-visits herself rather than relying on a business relationship that had been strong and trustworthy for the past two years.
The county has financial remedies built into the contract, Rodriguez said, like fining Bewegen for providing an insufficient level of service.
The program has cost about $1.5 million so far, Rodriguez said, with the federal grant picking up about half that total and the county and Park City splitting the rest. A lot of that has come from transportation tax revenue, she added.
The mechanically assisted bikes have been touted as a transportation alternative by county leaders, and they averaged about 36,000 trips per year in 2017 and 2018.
Rodriguez said the most common rides are between Kimball Junction and Canyons Resort, a 3.5-mile trip with about 500 feet of elevation change. Newpark is the most popular dropoff and pickup spot, with the second and third going to docks near transit locations: the Fresh Market bus stop on Park Avenue and the Old Town transit center.
A monthly pass costs $30 for unlimited 45-minute rides, while a 30-minute ride costs $3 with a per-ride pass and $0.15 per minute after that. An annual pass for Summit County residents and employees costs $90 for unlimited 90-minute rides.
Corps Logistics was founded by a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Navy. Rodriguez said the firm endeavors to hire unemployed or under-employed veterans to provide logistical support. She said that, like many Summit County businesses, Corps Logistics struggled to find and retain employees. She pointed to the cost of living in the county as one possible factor.
Rodriguez said the county has attempted to help in recruiting more staff. The preference is still to hire veterans, but Rodriguez said they would evaluate all comers.
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