Eagle County bike-shares spreading
More public money is going toward initiatives to get people out of cars, connect to transit
AVON — So-called “micromobility” — light transit modes like shared bikes and scooters — was all the rage in 2018, with companies Lime and Bird reaching billion-dollar valuations.
A report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials showed that micromobility rides in the U.S. more than doubled from 2017 to 2018 — with dockless electric scooters responsible for almost all of that growth.
And for years before that, municipalities have provided bike-share programs, often as public-private partnerships. According to the same study, bike-share programs continued to grow through 2018 in total nationwide trips.
Denver’s program, B-Cycle, was introduced in 2010 as the first of its scale in the U.S. But with the introduction of dockless scooters and bikes, the program has lately perhaps lost some of its sheen. It saw 344,256 trips in 2017, a decline of 9% from 2014.
The We-Cycle program in Aspen and Basalt launched in 2013 and, by 2018, saw 50,000 rides through Sept. 1 of that year, according to an Aspen Times report. The program includes 47 stations, with free rides of 30 minutes or less.
In Eagle County, governments are now looking to introduce or expand various types of bike-share programs, including electric-bike shares.
Since 2017, Avon has partnered with a company called Zagster to offer a bike-share program. The system now includes six stations, stretching from Avon Elementary to the Eaglebend Apartments.
The idea was, can Avon induce residents to not use their cars for short trips around town, such as a jaunt to Loaded Joe’s for coffee, avoiding problems of traffic, parking and pollution?
“How do we get people out of their vehicles?” said Eva Wilson, mobility director for the town of Avon.
In its first full year, 2018, the program saw 722 trips from April 1 to Nov. 30, or about three rides per day.
Memberships are $2 for a day, or $10 for a year.
The town funds the program at an annual cost of $41,000, with revenue from user fees bringing in about $2,500 per year to offset the town’s cost. That put the town’s cost of the program at about $53 per ride in 2018.
Through Sept. 30, the program had seen 646 rides this year.
“I don’t know if we went into it with a number expectation,” Wilson said of the ridership results. “We’re happy to see it continually increase.”
But more stations, extending outside of central Avon, could heighten Zagster’s local appeal, creating a network that would allow trips from, say, Edwards to Avon, or Avon to EagleVail.
ECO Transit has budgeted $30,000 in 2020 for bike-share efforts — which could include creating Zagster stations in Edwards to expand Avon’s network, said Jared Barnes, planning manager at ECO Transit.
Barnes added that there have been preliminary conversations with the EagleVail Metropolitan District about how it could help bring Zagster stations to that community.
The county’s Sustainable Communities program has also budgeted $30,000-$40,000 in 2020 to help bike share programs in some way, shape or form, Barnes said.
Vail is also looking to pilot a bike-sharing program — with electric bikes. Beth Markham, the environmental sustainability coordinator for the town of Vail, said the town is talking with several vendors and seeking to launch a pilot program in 2020.
The town has earmarked $25,000 for the program in its 2020 budget.
Barnes said ECO Transit would be interested in partnering with Vail on an e-bike sharing program, with additional stations downvalley.
Vail has looked at other communities that have adopted similar programs, including Park City, Utah, Markham said.
Park City introduced an e-bike share program in 2017. Officials were initially impressed with the adoption of the program, with 7,000 total trips recorded in the first six weeks.
But the program saw a sharp decline in riders in 2019, with about 11,000 trips for the year through Sept. 6. That’s about 28,000 fewer riders compared in 2018. The decline was attributed to staffing and maintenance issues.
Could Lime, Bird, Spin, Jump, Skip, Razor or Lyft expand their dockless electric bikes or scooters to Eagle County, as they have, sometimes controversially, to hundreds of cities and universities across the nation?
With a relatively sparse population, spread-out geography, lots of hilly roads and plenty of snow, would such a service even be viable in Eagle County?
“We are always looking to expand our Jump service area, but do not have immediate expansion plans in Colorado at this time,” said a spokeswoman for Uber, which owns Jump, a dockless electric bike service.
A Bird spokesperson said the company “didn’t have any expansion plans to announce at this time.”
In Summit County, Breckenridge and Dillon both pre-emptively banned electric scooter businesses this summer. But no government in Eagle County has taken such a step.
A scooter program could possibly work for compact village areas, but then you would have to consider the safety issues, Barnes noted.
“In town of Vail, could a scooter system work great to get between Lionshead and Vail Village?” Barnes said. “It probably could, but still it would be dealing with a lot of of these other challenges of how do they mesh with pedestrians, how do they move safely through the community and avoid conflicts and injuries, and clutter across the community of scooters being left everywhere?”
ECO Transit’s recently completed First/Last Mile Strategy Study didn’t recommend pursuing electric scooters as a next step for the county. Rather, it recommends the county look at bike-share programs, improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, revised fare structures, better education and real-time communication, and ride-hailing programs.
The study looked at barriers that discourage potential riders from using transit because they cannot easily access a station, Barnes said.
“By solving or helping improve first/last mile conditions, we can help people make some behavior changes and choose to use transit to get to where they’re going,” he said.
ECO Transit will likely move forward with some of those recommendations in the next year, including the expanded bike share, a new mobile ticketing system, a new real-time information platform, and pedestrian improvements near bus stations.