Vail may take another try in 2022 with an e-bike sharing program
Program will put more e-bikes on the road
Vail tried an e-bike share program for 10 weeks in 2020. The town plans to expand the program in 2022 to see if it can aid the town’s sustainability efforts.
The 2020 program had mixed results, with 12 bikes in town for the trial. The 2022 program is more ambitious, with a proposal for between 35 and 40 bikes, stations from East Vail to West Vail and charging docks for all the bikes. The season would also expand, making bikes available 20 to 25 weeks in spring, summer and fall.
As with the 2020 program, users would be charged for taking out e-bikes, and the program would probably be app-based.
The program’s estimated cost is $175,000.
Vail Environmental Sustainability Director Kristen Bertuglia Tuesday told the Vail Town Council that the idea isn’t to compete with bike shops renting e-bikes to guests. Vail Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Beth Markham added that the town’s request for proposals could include a tiered pricing system to ensure that bikes are used for business rather than pleasure.
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That purpose is promoting bikes as alternatives to cars for traveling to work and going grocery shopping.
Council member Kevin Foley asked if next year the bikes will have panniers — which could haul a few bags of groceries — instead of baskets.
Bertuglia noted that other resorts in the Rockies also have e-bike programs. Jackson, Wyoming, has a fleet of 55 bikes. In Utah, Park City and Summit County have a program with 190 bikes and multiple charging stations. So far this year, the program’s users have ridden more than 73,000 miles.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, a bike-sharing program uses solar-powered bike chargers.
Markham said a long-term goal for the town’s program is to link it with other valley communities, perhaps as far west as Edwards.
Bertuglia said that as the program expands, other communities will be asked to contribute more to the program.
While most council members seemed to favor the idea, Council member Jenn Bruno balked at the cost.
“This is going beyond my comfort zone,” Bruno said, adding that the 2020 program required users to pay for rides, and the town still paid significant subsidies per ride.
“I think we’re putting the bikes before the need, and we’re guessing,” she said.
The limits of buses
Bruno several times asked about putting charging and checkout stations near town bus stops.
Markham said the town’s free bus system has limitations, especially for service industry workers whose shifts end after the last buses have run. But, she added, the 2022 program must be well-run and adequately staffed. The 2020 program might not have had a “critical mass” of bikes to truly test the demand and effectiveness of e-bike sharing.
Bertuglia noted that evidence from similar communities indicates that an e-bike program can be successful and well used.
Markham noted that a survey conducted by the Eagle County Climate Action Collaborative indicates that people would occasionally leave their cars at home if their options included e-bikes.
Vail Mayor Dave Chapin acknowledged that at first he was skeptical of the idea. But, he said, the 2022 proposal reminds him of the town’s Commission on Special Events. That commission needed a big initial allocation to get buy-in, he noted.
Council member Travis Coggin said he believes the government should spend money on sometimes-risky ventures in pursuit of larger goals. The e-bike share idea could be an example of that kind of spending.
But Coggin and Chapin both said the $175,000 request should be viewed as a maximum. Chapin said other communities must get involved. That’s particularly true if county voters in 2022 agree to an idea to create a regional transportation authority.
Chapin said that questions still must be answered about the need for e-bikes and who’s going to use them.
“Vail’s car-centric, and we’ve got a great bus system,” Chapin said. “If this (program) does go forward, and if other communities aren’t (participating), we’re done.”
The Climate Action Collaborative has goals of:
A 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Estimates indicate a single e-bike could provide an average annual reduction of 496 pounds of carbon dioxide if used for transportation.