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German firm Nextbike to provide first 500 bikes for Pittsburgh sharing program

| Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, 11:33 p.m.

Five hundred German bicycles will arrive in Pittsburgh when officials spend $500,000 from a federal grant on a bike share program set to begin in the spring.

Provided by Nextbike, the share system will pepper pedaled vehicles in 50 stations throughout Downtown, the North Side, South Side Flats, Oakland and the East End.

Users would pay for the short-term rentals with a credit card that unlocks the bike from a wired or solar-powered station. Typically, someone would dock it later at another station and pay.

Bart Yavorosky, executive director of Pittsburgh Bike Share Partnership, said foundations ideally would support the project indefinitely, letting Pittsburgh become the first American city that treats its bike-share system as a public service, rather than a money-making venture.

“Prices in other cities can really take advantage of two types of users — those with annual memberships, and tourists,” he said. “We didn't want that. Bikes should be accessible to everyone, so to make that happen, we'd like to keep it down — no more than 50 cents an hour — and way cheaper than your typical bus fare at $2.50 a ride.”

A $1.6 million federal highway safety grant will cover equipment and installation in full. Pittsburgh Bike Share has almost matched that with $1.2 million from foundations. That should sustain the program through its first year, Yavorosky said.

Minneapolis and Denver bought in with different models a few years ago. Pittsburgh models will be of Dutch design, lighter than those of their competitors, with a step-through, unisex frame and bigger gear ratio to accommodate hills.

In a 2013 report, Denver officials said they tracked about 720 rides on their 709 bikes every day — about one ride per bike per day, Yavorosky said.

“They were the first share system in the U.S., and they do a great job, but that's leaving this great asset sitting at a dock almost all day,” he said. “If that happens here, to me it would mean we failed our objective.”

He thinks the city should help make city dwellers aware of the system.

Bike Pittsburgh Executive Director Scott Bricker said the nonprofit advocacy group is in discussions with Pittsburgh Bike Share to decide how best it can lend a hand. Mayor Bill Peduto has pledged his support repeatedly, though his office couldn't nail down a date or projected cost for equipment and installation.

Peduto initially pledged to have the stations installed before fall, but PennDOT vetting procedures, contract bids and scheduling pushed the start to 2015.

Yavorosky said he hopes to do a trial run, such as one conducted in Hungary not long ago. Budapest officials offered 1,000 people free use of bikes to track statistics for two weeks. Pittsburgh could do the same, he said.

Megan Harris is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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