Vail’s e-bike share program a local test for ‘micro mobility’
Pilot program seems to have overcome some early teething pains
There are plenty of eyes on a town of Vail summer pilot program for e-bike sharing.
The town last month launched a 10-week test of the program. Using 12 bikes from Montreal-based Bewegen Technologies, the program has docking stations in six locations in town, including the West Vail Mall, the Pitkin Creek bus stop and the Vail Transportation Center. Temporary stations will be set up at Ford Park and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater for commuting to and from events.
The pilot program is an experiment in “micro-mobility,” and is intended for short trips. Users download an app, then pay $3 for the first 30 minutes of use. The cost goes up from there, at 15 cents per additional minute.
The bikes are supposed to unlock fully charged from docking stations, where they’re supposed to be returned when a rider is finished.
The bikes only have a 3.5-hour battery life, and aren’t intended for use beyond just parts of town accessible by recreation paths.
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They also aren’t intended to replace existing bike shops.
Some local grumbling
Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh said none of the town’s existing shops were asked to submit a proposal. Brumbaugh acknowledged his business doesn’t have the resources to supply even the pilot program. But, he added, “It would have been nice to have been asked.”
Brumbaugh noted that bike users can park their e-bikes in places tourists can see them. And, he added, why would someone rent a bike from a commercial shop when it’s inexpensive to use one of the town program machines?
On the other hand, program bike rentals can get pretty expensive. Four hours of use costs $34.50, and a 24-hour rental is $70.50.
Brumbaugh said he’s spoken with town officials in the weeks since the pilot program was rolled out. Those officials, including Vail Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Beth Markham, were good listeners, Brumbaugh said.
“They couldn’t have been more receptive” to his concerns, Brumbaugh said.
Markham acknowledged she could have done a better job reaching out to local bike shops before the program launched.
“We could have done a better job of outreach (to shops) a little earlier,” Markham said.
There have been a few other early bumps in the program’s first few weeks.
Markham acknowledged there were some early hiccups with charging. Some users pulled bikes with low batteries, and those batteries died whie the bikes were in use. Some electronic locks would stick. One user parked a bike in front of a local restaurant’s trash enclosure on a pickup day and it took a couple of hours to get the machine unlocked and moved.
Since that incident, police officers and a handful of other town employees now have keys to the locks and can move bikes as needed without damage.
Things have gone right, of course, as you’d expect from a company that manages a program for Summit County, Utah, home of Park City. There, Bewegen has 190 bikes and 20 checkout/charging stations.
People are riding
Through its first four weeks, the Vail program has seen 226 rides, and users racked up about 930 miles, Markham said.
The emails and calls about problems are diminishing, she added.
The Vail program is being watched by county officials who are also working on “micro-mobility” solutions. Uses for micro-mobility include short commutes, errand-running. The idea is that users can arrive to their destinations more quickly and more efficiently than using personal vehicles.
Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr said what he’d like to see is a coordinated approach to micro mobility
“Nobody is looking at mobility holistically,” Scherr said. What happens then is long-term policies are enacted without thinking about the consequences that come with those policies.
There are “huge long-term consequences” for land use planning when it comes to transportation, Scherr said. Much of that policy is being done in the context of today’s needs, not the needs the population a decade in the future.
Building workforce housing closer to jobs affects transit and vehicle use, Scherr said. That’s going to change how local governments plan for parking and transit.
Vail’s e-bike pilot program can provide good data about how people get around, or how they want to get around.
“It gives you a baseline, and that’s important to have,” Scherr said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.