Pittsburgh bike share program pushes on despite being delayed until 2015

Bob Bauder
| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 10:50 p.m.

Pittsburgh bicycle rental owners say they have mixed feelings about a delayed $2.6 million bike share program that's scheduled to open in 2015 with 500 cycles at 50 locations across the city.

“The concern that small private bike shops and rental owners have is that they're going to drop the pricing down to be something that people will use recreationally,” said Tom Demagall, owner of Downtown-based Golden Triangle Bike Rentals. “I'm glad we're getting it. I just want to see it maintain its integrity.”

Bart Yavorosky, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share, said the program is designed for short rides of 30 or 60 minutes, and the nonprofit has no intention of competing with business.

He said organizers are considering penalizing users with higher fees for riding longer than allotted times.

“It's going to provide a really important transportation niche for those trips where it's a little bit too far for people to walk and it's a little bit too short to take public transportation or take a taxi,” he said.

The program is being funded with a $1.6 million federal highway grant and nearly $1 million in charity donations, including $600,000 from the Hillman Foundation, Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation.

Yavorosky said the program has secured a corporate sponsor that committed a “generous sum,” but he declined to name the company or disclose the donation before a public announcement.

The $2.6 million will pay for bikes and equipment, which the city will own. Corporate money will be used for operations and possible expansion, he said.

Expansion goals are 150 stations and 1,500 bikes.

“We're really primarily focused on ... having a system in place that creates an active transportation solution for the city that's going to service the broadest demographic possible,” Yavorosky said.

The bike share was supposed to start in September, but a glitch in public bidding delayed it.

Pittsburgh bid out the project but rejected the low bidder because officials discovered documents did not require the latest technology for bike-share equipment, according to Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesman for PennDOT, which oversees federal highway grants.

He said a new bid is out, and the contract should be set by July 31. The system is scheduled to go online in April.

More than 30 cities in the United States have adopted bike share programs as a way to provide clean, quick and cheap transportation, but many experienced problems with such things as technology and revenue shortfalls.

Users typically purchase memberships online or at kiosks using a credit card. The memberships, which range from 24 hours to one year, allow users to unlock bikes from docking stations. Prices range from $8 for a day pass to $80 for a year.

The fees provide up to an hour for each ride, with additional fees kicking in once the initial time runs out.

Yavorosky said Pittsburgh is studying systems elsewhere to avoid pitfalls.

Karen Haley, executive director of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail Inc., which operates a bike share in Indianapolis, said the program started in April with 25 stations and 250 bikes. She said results have been surprising.

“In the first two months we've had over 30,000 rides, which is every time someone checks out a bike, and over 1,000 annual memberships and 13,000 24-hour passes purchased,” she said.

Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh, which is partnering with the city and Pittsburgh Bike Share on the system, said the program would help drive up bicycle usage and make streets safer for cycling.

Drivers become more cognizant and cautious of cyclists when they see more on streets, he said.

“Studies show the more people who ride bikes the safer the streets get,” Bricker said.

Mayor Bill Peduto, a supporter of cycling, said it will help spur bicycle infrastructure such as dedicated bike lanes. Peduto announced this month that the city will build protected bike lanes in Schenley Park, Greenfield and Downtown.

“Copenhagen has 500,000 bike commuters,” said Peduto, who recently attended an international bike conference there. “Forty years ago, it was just like Pittsburgh. As infrastructure was built, more people started to use bikes and as more people used bikes, more infrastructure was built.”

Demagall, owner of the Downtown bike rental, said that would be great for business.

“Bike shops get busier, bike rentals get busier, there's more attention on biking,” he said. “I think that's a real possibility for Pittsburgh.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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