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Bike share program heads to City Council for up or down vote

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council will decide whether or not to approve funding for a proposed bike share program. During a workshop Thursday approved via straw poll scheduling full City Council approval. A specific date was not specified.

The City and Mayor Rick Kriseman had called on City Council to approve $1.5 million for the program that would put stations in and around downtown. The money would be split three ways with $500,000 each coming from the city’s parking fees, transportation impact fees and BP oil spill settlement money.

During discussion Council member Jim Kennedy said he would support the expense, but asked that the funding structure be changed to eliminate using BP funds. That would mean parking and impact fees would divvy up $750,000 each.

The proposed program would initially include 30 stations with 300 bicycles. The bikes would be equipped with all of the necessary technology including GPS, a credit card payment mechanism and solar power to make everything run. And the city would own the bikes.

During a previous committee discussion City Council members asked if Tax Incremental funds could be used to fund the program. At the time the city’s legal staff said they weren’t sure and would look into it. During Thrursday’s discussion they said TIF dollars could not be used because the infrastructure necessary for the bike hubs are mobile and could be moved outside the TIF district. The bikes, obviously, are also mobile.

Still, City Council member Charlie Gerdes suggested some bike hubs could be placed permanently at places that make sense and asked that legal staff further investigate whether that portion of infrastructure could be funded through TIF.

Another issue brought up was liability, particularly as a result of users not wearing helmets. Cycle Hop said they looked at several ways to encourage helmet use. First, there will be safety messaging urging riders to wear a helmet. Second, they are considering offering various discounts for users to purchase their own helmet including having a free helmet included with an annual membership.

There are also kiosks that can be purchased to dispense helmets at bike hubs. However, the technology in those vending machines is still new and the cost relatively high – about $10,000.

In any case, city lawyers reminded the law only requires users under the age of 16 to wear a helmet. And contract negotiations with Cycle Hop, though not final, will include indemnification clauses reducing the city’s liability.

The company Cycle Hop would manage the bike share program. That’s the same company that manages Tampa’s bike share known as Coast.

The bikes would cost $8 for an hour of use for a walk-up customer. However, annual memberships provide options for yearly subscriptions making the cost much lower for those who expect to use the service more often. A $79 annual fee gets users an hour per day of bike usage. Members can also pay $15 per month to try the program out. $20 per month buys 90 minutes of usage per day.

In Tampa, Coast offers a student annual rate of just $59.

The city hopes to expand the program with each contract renewal. The initial contract runs for three years and includes the option for two three-year renewals. Evan Mory, the city’s parking and transportation manager, said he’d like to see 25 new bikes added with each renewal.

That would come at an additional cost to the city. Mory’s department estimates that could cost up to $1.2 million over the initial nine-year period. That figure is a worst case scenario, however. It assumes the city does not recoup any revenue from the program.

While any transportation program is expected to require a subsidy, the city is expected to offset some of the costs through ridership, sponsorship and advertising. Mory expects title sponsorship for the program to bring in about $300,000 and said there are already talks with some potential sponsors.

Mory said advertising is also an attractive opportunity for downtown businesses who don’t have access to much outdoor advertising.

Mory said he hopes to have a plan before City Council for approval in April with implementation sometime in the fall. Mory estimates the entire process should take about six months. He also said there will likely be “pop-up” stations testing the program before a final launch.

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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