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What Would a Tacoma-Style Bike Share Look Like?
It's Bike Month, so we know you've all been riding your bikes everywhere... Well, the City of Tacoma could be getting some bikes of its own to share.
Last week the Tacoma City Council Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee took an early look at the feasibility of a bike share program in Tacoma.
Bike share programs are popping up all over the world, in increasing numbers with better technology for rental stations, and there may be a "renewed interest" in Tacoma since Seattle's program has gotten off the ground.
The programs offer bikes for limited-term rental, often on an hourly or daily basis. The bikes live at docking stations, typically located on sidewalks, in plazas, and sometimes replace a few on-street motor vehicle parking spots. The stations require maintenance, and pose the challenge of "rebalancing" the supply of bikes to move them from where they are left to where they are wanted.
Bike share bikes are intended for use by both residents and visitors, although better money is generally made on visitors, who tend to pay for day use, whereas residents tend to be more likely to pay for a membership. The programs work best in high population density locations, near transit centers, and in places with destinations like tourist attractions. A well-developed bicycle infrastructure is also important to a successful bike share program.
The programs around the world range widely in size from just a few hundred of bikes to thousands. 30 cities in the US have bike share programs, with smaller programs operating with between 20 and 30 stations. Seattle's program has 50 stations, and staff is guessing that Tacoma would need at least a dozen to make it work in Tacoma.
The cost for starting a bike share system is generally about $55,000 per station, plus $26,000 in annual operation costs. Even with a healthy ridership level programs usually operate at a deficit; Washington, DC, with all its out of tourists, is one of the few in the country that operates in the black. Other cities make up the gap in funding with varying mixes of corporate sponsorship and grants. Seattle's program operations are mostly funded by fares, with the initial start up and remainder of operations costs covered by corporate contributions (big sponsors are Alaska Air and Children's Hospital). There was some discussion about the possibility of a future Tacoma system including reciprocal memberships that would allow members to rent bikes in Seattle and other locations around the region.
Other options for bike shares do away with the bike station infrastructure. In one scenario the program could operate as a stationless bike share system, with bikes locked up at regular bike racks, and reservations made online. Another option would be to set up staffed bike rental kiosks. These could both potentially be more affordable to operate, but come with their own challenges, as corporate sponsorship is generally tied to the stations.
An initial look at the possibility of developing a bikeshare program in Tacoma identified a list of challenges, and opportunities in Tacoma.
- Lack of tourism
- Lack of bikeway infrastructure that everyone feels comfortable on - including the gap in the Downtown to Defiance bike trail
- Steep topography (pedal assist bikeshares have been done, but they are obviously more expensive)
- Need for a sponsor or other funding mechanism
- A supportive policy framework
- Key destinations (museums, transit centers, Point Defiance, etc)
- A growing bike culture
- Strong partnerships (public private, other public agencies, etc)
- There are plans to complete the Downtown to Defiance connection
Council committee feedback was mixed, with the council open to seeing more, but certainly not ready to commit to a program. Deputy Mayor Boe suggested that in his view, the money that would be spent on a bike share program might be better invested in improving the connectivity and useability of Tacoma's bike infrastructure and completing routes so that cyclists have somewhere to go - safely and comfortably.
City mobility staff are interested in finding funding for a further Tacoma-specific study to explore the possibilities - a study that could find that more investment is needed in Tacoma's bike infrastructure before a program could be successful, or could lead to a small pilot program of some sort. The intent isn't to pop up a bikeshare program in the next year, or possibly even two. Doing the research here is intended to set us up for a "Tacoma style" bikeshare, which could look different from what works in Seattle and other places.
Any suggestions for a Tacoma-style bikeshare?
Read more on a preliminary report from The News Tribune.
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