Bike share coming soon to Tampa

01/21/14 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: bikes, transit, Transportation, Bob Buckhorn, Social Bicycles, Coast Bike Share


Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tests one of 300 bikes that will hit the streets this spring.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Soon Tampa residents and visitors will be able to cruise around town on bikes even if they don’t own one. Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled the new Coast Bike Share program that will rent 300 bikes at 30 locations this spring.

The bike hubs will be spread throughout downtown, Ybor City and Hyde Park. During a press conference at Curtis Hixon Downtown Waterfront Park Tuesday morning, Buckhorn said the project, which is privately funded, is three years in the making.

“I mean, from the parks to the river to the Riverwalk to all the restaurants and bars, we want people to live downtown and live in the urban environment and leave their cars in the garage and not have to use them. Bikes are a part of that. That’s part of that urban experience – part of that pedestrian experience. We want them on bikes going to bars and to restaurants and to retail establishments. I’m going to really look forward to the day when I see those blue bikes all over downtown.”

The bikes are sky blue with an over-sized basket to carry hauls from downtown markets or quaint Ybor shops. Mounted on the rear tire is a small computer that contains a GPS and PIN pad. Eric Trull is marketing director for Coast Bike Share.

“Probably the widest use is on the smart phone. A user will jump on, find a bike, check it out, walk up to the bike, enter a four-digit PIN code, holster the lock and they’re off and riding. The second way is to visit one of those thirty hubs and we’ll have a kiosk available there and it will operate much in the same way.”

Though the bikes won’t be hitting the roads until sometime this spring, the mobile app, called Social Bicycles, and website are already live.

“A visitor can join in for $5 an hour, $30 a month – right around a buck a day – or $80 a year, so right around $0.21 a day. That gets you - the monthly and annual membership – gets you one hour of free ride time per day. Because this is a form of public transit, we find that the average ride is about 14-minutes. So, that gives you – give or take – about four rides per day and, once again, because we have a computer in the bike we’re able to break that up however fits your schedule. Anything beyond that, each additional half hour is $2.50. So, cheaper than a cab ride.”

The program is the first of its size to be managed by Social Bicycles. Patrick Hoffman, a project manager with the company, said the $1,000 bikes are designed to be user-friendly for people who might be heading somewhere sweaty shirts aren’t an option. Instead of a typical chain and gear system, these bikes use what’s called a shaft drive.

“…no chain, no getting your pant legs caught. It means it’s actually more efficient in terms of getting the power to the rear wheel. So, it’s not as strenuous to bicycle. It has internal hub brakes which means you can ride even in wet weather and you’re not going to have the issues you might have if we have caliper brakes which most private cyclists have caliper brakes – which makes for great stopping. I’ve ridden this thing on ice, on snow.”

Coast will eventually spread to other areas in the city like the Westshore shopping district and Seminole Heights. Tampa is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous cities in America to ride a bike. Phil Compton is with the Florida Sierra Club.

“The big reason for that is people aren’t used to seeing bikes on the streets. This will help put a lot more bikes on the streets all the time so that people will acknowledge that, ‘gee, bikes have a right to be here.’ Our streets need to accommodate bikes and pedestrians as well as cars – complete streets. That’s what we used to have 100 years ago when Ybor City had a dozen bike shops on 7th Avenue and that’s what we can move back towards so that anybody can choose to get around anyway they want to – bus, bike, car, walking.”

Downtown Tampa serves primarily as the city’s main business district, but Mayor Buckhorn is trying to grow the after-hours and weekend scene. Across the Bay in St. Pete, officials celebrated making a New York Times list of 52 places to see this year. The article ranked St. Pete at number 49 and was the only Florida spot to make the cut. The paper cited the city’s thriving craft beer scene and walk-ability. Buckhorn said he’s not trying to replicate downtown St. Pete, but hopes to benefit from their recent success.

“Ours is different. Ours is a more muscular business environment here. But that doesn’t mean that the residential component which is driving most of the retail can’t survive. I mean, we have three new towers that are breaking ground here in the next six months. Downtown Tampa and Tampa in particular is always going to be the economic engine that drives the Bay area. St. Pete compliments us. We don’t compete with them. This is just growing Tampa’s urban experience and making it even more attractive than it already is.”

And Coast’s Trull said the bike share program should do just that.

“Coast is about creating conversations with strangers that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It is about the serendipitous stop at a shop that you’ve never seen because you’re taking a route that you never imagined.”

Social Bicycles is launching programs in cities across the U.S. like Las Vegas, Austin and eventually Orlando. Members of Tampa’s program can use their membership in those cities.

comments powered by Disqus