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Spin bike share

Three hundred bicycles were placed throughout Flagstaff in early 2018 as part of a six-month pilot program for bike share. 

Just over three minutes. That was approximately how long the city’s contract lasted with Gotcha, a company hoping to provide the city with a new bike share program.

After approving the contract in a 4-3 decision, the Flagstaff City Council unanimously decided to rescind their approval of the bike share deal Tuesday over concerns from some councilmembers regarding the number of electric bikes that the program would bring to the city.

Councilmember Jamie Whelan in particular said she was concerned members of the public had not had time to weigh in on the proposal, which would introduce 250 e-bikes to be used by both residents of Flagstaff and students at Northern Arizona University.

The proposal comes after the city finished a trail bike share program last year and the council implemented new regulation on e-bikes earlier this year.

In June, those regulations were a point of contention for many councilmembers -- several believed e-bikes should not be allowed on many sections of the city’s urban trial system. After multiple days of discussion, the city council unanimously decided to allow class one and two e-bikes, which can reach 20 miles an hour, on most sections of the city’s urban trail system. Class three e-bikes, which can reach higher speeds, were relegated to bike lanes.

But on Tuesday, Whelan expressed concern over the city's plan to work with Gotcha to bring so many e-bikes into the city as part of bike share.

Whelan added she did not believe the council's prior decision to allow some e-bikes on trails should have been seen as a green light for the introduction of hundreds of e-bikes.

“What we vetted is e-bikes on our FUTS trails and all that; what we did not vet is bringing 200, with our blessing, electric bikes in for rentals. That’s very different than deciding where they belong,” Whelan said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Mayor Coral Evans and Councilmember Regina Salas.

Because of the quantity of e-bikes in the proposal, Whelan worried the public had not had enough time to vet the program and asked Council to reconsider their vote and postpone the decision until the meeting on Sept. 3.

“It may be a big deal only in my mind,” Whelan said, but added she would like to make sure the public has their two cents.

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Councilmember Charlie Odegaard pointed out that the subject has been on the council’s agenda for some time, suggesting residents and councilmembers have had time to review the proposal, but went along with the suggestion to postpone the decision. He added he looked forward to approving the contract on Sept. 3.

Councilmember Austin Aslan and Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni both expressed support for the program and said they believe the e-bikes will only make the program more successful.

Should the contract be approved, although all the bikes would be e-bikes, users would have the choice to use them as traditional bikes, City Sustainability Manager Nicole Antonopoulos said. Using the e-bike functions would allow the electric motor to assist the rider, but it would also be more expensive.

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It would cost $2 to unlock and use a bike with pedal assist enabled while it would only cost $1 to unlock and ride a bike in the traditional fashion. 

The company would also offer users a monthly subscription model allowing them to have a certain number of rides for free every day.

The city had originally asked companies to submit proposals with a mixed fleet of traditional bikes and at least 10% e-bikes, but Antonopoulos said Gotcha’s proposal checked a number of other boxes that other companies' proposals didn’t.

Antonopoulos added that Gotcha was not the only company to propose fleets substantially made up of e-bikes and said generally, that is the direction the bike share industry is moving in.

The proposals were vetted by teams at Northern Arizona University, the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transit Authority, the Flagstaff Metropolitan Planning Agency and the city’s bicycle advisory committee. Antonopoulos said Gotcha was chosen as having the best proposal.

“We wanted a bike share program that was innovative, that supports our climate action and adaptation plan, that ensures services are accessible and available to traditionally underserved members of our community, that conducts community education on safety for cycling, as well as provides the best overall value to the Flagstaff community and NAU,” Antonopoulos said.

She added the groups that had vetted the proposals felt the payment model would be affordable for anyone in Flagstaff who wanted to use bike share.

Additionally, while it is not uncommon for companies to charge a city for setting up a bike share program, Antonopoulos said they don’t expect to see any money from the city funding the program. That means if the proposal is approved, the city may be able to keep the $15,000 that Council had set aside for bike share programs in this year’s budget.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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