Officials shocked at popularity of electric-bike program
County manager says the demand has exceeded ability to service bikes
The overwhelming success of Summit County’s electric bike program over the summer has exceeded the operators’ ability to maintain service of the bikes, according to Summit County Manager Tom Fisher.
As of Tuesday, more than 7,000 total trips have been logged and 24,199 miles ridden since the county and Park City Municipal introduced the program nearly six weeks ago. There are nine bike stations with more than 80 bikes in service throughout the Basin and Park City.
“The reception of it, including the ridership and the number of miles that have been ridden, are better than anyone expected,” Fisher said. “But, we continue to see some issues. The contractor is saying because of the heavy use they are having issues keeping up with the maintenance.
“That is probably indicative of our situation in Summit County and Park City with it being more mountainous than other cities where similar programs are,” he said.
The bikes, which are all electric with pedal assistance, can propel riders up to 14.5 miles per hour. Users can purchase a $2 one-time pass through a phone application or sign up for weekly, monthly and annual passes at the kiosk stations. Single-ride passes include 45 minutes of riding before an additional $2 is charged on the user’s credit card for every 30 minutes beyond that. Riders must be 18 years old.
Bewegen Technologies, Inc., a Canadian bike-share operator, and Corps Logistics, a New Jersey-based company, monitor the system through a contract with the county.
The community, while supportive of the program, has also highlighted ongoing issues that have been encountered, such as problems with the application and availability of bikes.
On Monday, Kiara Lopez, who is a Park City resident, rented bikes with several friends from the station in the Newpark Plaza. Lopez said she supports the program, but has also encountered problems using it.
“They are awesome bikes, but there was this incident with my cousin where he paid for five bikes and he only got three because the other two didn’t work,” she said. “He tried calling, but couldn’t get in touch with anyone.”
Fisher said it is the county’s responsibility as the contract manager to be working with the operator to ensure they are meeting the obligations of the contract. He added, “If they are not meeting our expectations and the community’s expectations, we have to adjust in order to get there.”
Fisher said there have not consistently been enough bikes at the stations that are functioning properly to satisfy the demand.
“We have been doing internal auditing on a weekly basis just to see how that works with the performance objectives in the contract, which state that there have to be 90 percent of the bikes available to ride,” Fisher said. “In the last few weeks, they have been running at about 50 percent and sometimes it has been lower than that.
“We’ve been in close contact with the contractor and they are not happy with the performance at this point as well. They seem to be taking it very seriously and we are wanting to see if that can improve over the next few weeks,” he said.
Braunyno Belo Ayotte, who is Bewegen Technologies, Inc., director of business development and marketing and Summit County’s bike share project manager, said the system has been “three-to-four times more successful than any other launch that I have seen in the bike-share industry in the last 10 years.”
“Everything we had planned out was for a quarter of the ridership and usage,” Ayotte said. “It just exploded and we were surprised by that. We have some fault in there, though, for not being more prepared, but it’s literally been the most successful launch, in my opinion, in the history of bike share in the U.S. It is very difficult for us to plan for that.”
Ayotte said the company takes the issues raised by users “very seriously.” He added, “We need to grow the resources and we are in the process of doing that.”
Alfred Knotts, who is Park City’s transportation planning manager, said he’s heard similar reports and problems. Knotts said the city is trying to do more outreach and customer awareness about the bikes and the safety and age requirements. Additionally, he said the contractor has to be more accessible for the users.
“That is what we have been trying to catch up on,” Knotts said.
Knotts said the city and county will continue evaluating the program in the coming weeks before it is suspended for the winter. He said the second phase of the program is expected to debut in the summer of 2018.
“We will button up over the winter and look at the lessons learned,” Knotts said. “Part of the reason we do pilot projects before we put these significant public expenditures in place is to try to develop a little more of a smaller model and determine what has been effective, what has worked and what hasn’t worked.”
Fisher sounded optimistic about the future of the program. He said, “People really want to see it work well and the folks that have been out there using it have had fairly good experiences.” But, he admitted, the program and contract with the provider will have to be carefully evaluated before a second phase is rolled out.
“We are accountable for holding them accountable,” Fisher said. “Our biggest thing is before we get into buying more bikes, which the early days shows the demand is there, we want to make sure we evaluate the whole thing. And we may have to look for a different provider. But, it’s clear from the early experience that people want it and they can use a system like this in our community.”
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.