Bike share program just months away in Tampa

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Mayor Bob Buckhorn cant wait for Coast Bike Share to begin.
  • Mayor Bob Buckhorn can't wait for Coast Bike Share to begin.
A bike-sharing program in Tampa that incorporates technology not used in any similar program in the country is due to begin in just a few months, officials said Tuesday morning.

The first phase of the plan will originate in three locations in Tampa β€” Downtown, Hyde Park and Ybor City β€” ultimately spreading to other areas, like Seminole Heights and Westshore. The goal is to have 300 bikes located at 30 different spots throughout the city.

Although details of the plan have been revealed in recent days, the city waited until today to announce its official name β€” Coast Bike Share.

"Coast is not just about bikes. It’s about creating community," said Tampa Bike Share Marketing Director Eric Trull at a news conference in Curtis Hixon Park, where Mayor Bob Buckhorn then entertained reporters by getting on one of the bikes and navigating a short distance.

According to Trull, bike rentals will cost $5 an hour. Monthly memberships will cost $30 and annual memberships $80, with one hour of free riding per day.

Bike sharing programs began in Europe years ago and are now in over 30 U.S. cities, with more on the way. But unlike those programs, Tampa's system will combine "smart" bikes with "dumb" stations.

New York-based Social Bicycles is working with CycleHop LLC on the project. Its CEO, Ryan Rzepecki, explains what's so smart about these bikes on the company's website: "Our bikes have an integrated GPS-enabled locking system that works with regular bike racks. Riders can reserve these bikes using a web browser, mobile application, or from the keypad interface on the bike. We have removed the security and authorization system from the docking station and put it onto the bike itself."

"Tampa is the first major city in US to get smart bikes," says Social Bicycles' Patrick Hoffman. The system is unlike most other bike-share setups, in which each docking station requires its own kiosk. The city of Phoenix is also working with Social Bicycles, and will soon be unveiling its own smart bike sharing system.

Hoffman says that the Social Bicycles system means that the cost of one of their bikes is only $1,000, vs. the $6,000-$8,000-per-bike cost of other sharing programs.

The city of Tampa is spending no direct funds on the plan, though it has agreed to provide room on its sidewalks.

Tampa attorney and transit activist Brian Willis was at the press conference. He says the bike sharing program gives him a new option for getting to work.

Hillsborough County's reputation for being one of the most dangerous communities in the country for cyclists and pedestrians is another reason to have a bike sharing program, says the Sierra Club's Phil Compton. He says putting more bikes on the road will force a "cultural shift" in motorists' thinking as they get used to sharing city streets with cyclists.

But Jim Shirk, chairman of the Hillsborough County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, acknowledges that there may be some challenges, such as the fact that the summer months can be so hot and humid that folks aren't always eager to go outside. But he thinks the program will be a great attraction for tourists, as well as creating more of a "cycling culture" in the city.

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