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Gotcha Bike Share

A photo of a Gotcha electric bike as part of the bike share program in Syracuse, New York. 

After discussing the issue of electric bikes in Flagstaff for more than nine and a half hours during six council meetings this year, City Council approved a contract to bring an electric bike share program to Flagstaff.

The contract will allow the company Gotcha to bring 250 electric bikes to be rented by residents of Flagstaff and those attending Northern Arizona University.

Despite the agreement, city sustainability specialist Jenny Niemann said residents shouldn’t expect to see bikes on the ground for at least six months as city staff and Gotcha hammer out the details of exactly how the system will work.

Council unanimously approved the contract and Councilmember Austin Aslan said he was excited because it would “serve the goal of getting cars off the streets, getting parking spaces freed up, reducing congestion, getting people healthier and reducing carbon footprint and moving towards other energy sources.”

“And this will get people out of their cars, that’s why I’m very excited about it,” Aslan added.

But not all the councilmembers were so enthusiastic about the program.

Councilmembers Regina Salas and Jim McCarthy, as well as Mayor Coral Evans, all had concerns over the program's effects and asked for the contract to be amended.

McCarthy in particular worried the program could lead to large packs of cyclists clogging the city’s urban trails and if the city would be able to find room to park bikes in areas of downtown.

In the end, the contract was changed to create an automatic review of the program six months after launch, and the city would see a portion of the fee levied by the company on a user who parks a bike in an inappropriate area.

Unlike the Spin bike share program that the city used last year, Gotcha will be more restrictive on where users will be able to park the bikes.

Users may be required to park bikes in designated parking areas in some parts of the city, while other areas may be more flexible, Niemann said.

For example, sections of the city with higher densities such as downtown will be heavily regulated. In less dense neighborhoods such as Cheshire, Niemann said that makes less sense as they want people to be able to use a bike to get back to their house.

According to Gotcha CEO Sean Flood, the company generally charges a $5 fee if a user parks a bike in a place they are not supposed to.

Evans worried that wouldn’t be enough to get residents to park bikes properly and pointed to the city’s experience with the Spin program.

“[Those] bikes were all over, left sideways, backwards, in the middle of sidewalks, all that kind of stuff,” Evans said, adding she would like to see the fee at least doubled.

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Flood said in their experience, educating users and residents about where it is appropriate to park the bikes is just as important as any fee they issue, and once people know the rules, most are happy to follow them.

“Truthfully there are a lot of communities that don’t want (the fee) as high because they don’t want to penalize their citizens for learning a new system,” Flood said.

The bikes Gotcha will bring will be available for rent in two modes, either as a traditional bike or as a pedal assist bikes. 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, Niemann said. It would then cost $.15 per minute after that initial cost.

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

For a resident of Flagstaff, a subscription would cost about $10 a month while for NAU students a subscription would cost about $7 a month.

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At the Aug. 28 meeting, Salas wondered if Gotcha could expand the student rate to other students in Flagstaff, such as those attending Coconino Community College or even high schoolers.

It is also possible that the subscription rates change somewhat by the time the program launches, Niemann said, especially if Gotcha follows Salas’ push to expand who qualifies for a lower student rate.

Pushing alternative travel

The program may also help encourage other forms of alternative transportation in Flagstaff such as the Mountain Line bus system.

Across the country, transit experts have found people are often interested in using public transit over driving their personal vehicle, but have trouble traveling the first and last mile to and from a public transit stop.

Bike share programs have been one way to solve that problem, allowing a commuter to travel from their home to a bus stop and then from the next bus stop to their final destination using the bike share program.

During the city’s Spin trial bike share program, the average trip distance was 1.4 miles; city sustainability manager Nicole Antonopoulos said that tells them a lot about who was using the bikes.

On average there were about 174 bikes in circulation during the trial program with residents riding a total of about 14,000 miles by the end of the six-month period.

Likewise, the pedal assist capabilities of the e-bikes may allow commuters to travel farther distances than normal, Niemann said, which could get a lot of residents who would normally drive out of their cars. Reducing the number of residents who are regularly driving personnel vehicles is one of the many goals of the City’s Climate Change Action and Adaptation Plan, which was passed unanimously last year.

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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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