Electronic-assist bike-share program to debut in Iowa City
While details are still sparse, a bike-share program is coming to Iowa City.
Tuesday night the Iowa City Council authorized a contract between the city and Gotcha Mobility LLC, a South Carolina-based company that in the coming 90 days will begin offering electric, pedal-assist bikes in the downtown.
"We've been pursuing a bike-share for some years," said Darian Nagle-Gamm, the city's transportation services director.
Nagle-Gamm has been running point for the city since it requested proposals from bike-sharing companies in April of 2018. For her, the service fits neatly in the city's master plan providing "healthy, safe, affordable and easily accessible transportation options." The city's climate action plan calls for shifting 55% of vehicle trips to sustainable options such as public transportation, bicycle or pedestrian trips by 2050 to reach the city's "net-zero" standards.
The bikes coming to Iowa City will have "electric-assist." Rather than having a throttle that directs power to an electric engine, as a cyclist pedals the amount of assistance is directed by the amount of pressure put on the pedal. A cyclist moving uphill will likely put more pressure on each stroke of the pedal offering more assistance on the assent. There will be a governor on the bikes' engines that will halt the motor at speeds above 15 mph. They will have front and rear lights that will automatically turn on when the bike is in motion.
Implementing in Iowa City
As the technology around such bikes has evolved. Nagle-Gamm said that the docking stations common to bike shares around the world are just now falling out of fashion in favor of dockless bikes. Gotcha will work with the city to determine some locations in the downtown that could be used for parking the bike fleet. These "geo-fenced" areas will use GPS technology to help Gotcha determine if a bike has been dropped off at one of the approved locations. Nagle-Gamm said this will help prevent these bikes from littering the city's public right-of-way.
According to Nagle-Gamm's presentation, Gotcha will have some employees in town to maintain the bikes and move them around to optimize usability based on demand. These employees will also remove improperly parked bikes within four hours of notification between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and within 12 hours all other times. The bikes could be impounded if parked improperly for more than seven consecutive days.
"Because of the GPS transponder, the vendor can tell within a few feet whether they are parked where they should be," Nagle-Gamm said.
The bikes will unlock through interfacing with a smartphone app. A person will pay $2 per-ride to unlock the bike and an additional 10 cents per minute. A monthly pass will cost $9.99 with .10 cents per minute; an annual pass, $79.99 with the same per minute charge. They are also planning an income-qualified equity program that will cost $5 annually and includes 30 minutes of ride time daily, with a $.05 per minute charge thereafter. The vendor will provide a cash-only option for those without access to a smartphone.
While the plan is to build up the stock of electric-assist bikes in the downtown first, Nagle-Gamm said that long-term they hope to establish hubs throughout the Iowa City's neighborhoods, giving people an alternative for getting around town.
While the contract is with the city, it is expected that the bikes will be heavily used by University of Iowa students. Anne Bassett, a spokesperson for the UI, said an agreement had not yet been signed, but the University "is working on logistics" to launch with the city.
"The University will share more details with its campus community when available," Bassett wrote in a statement.
From Amsterdam Anarchist to sharing bikes world-wide
Such a bike sharing program is not novel to Iowa City. For the origin of the bike-shares, historians point to the Witte Fietsenplan or the White Bicycle Plan. In 1965, Provo, a Dutch anarchist group, took dozens of old bikes, painted them white and left them unlocked for anyone to commute with and leave behind for the next person. Even back then, the Provos deemed it part of the solution to decrease air pollution..
In a pamphlet, a Provos activist posed the shared bike as a foil to the encroachment of the automobile: "The white bike symbolizes simplicity and hygiene as opposed to the gaudiness and filth of the authoritarian car."
It took 30 years for another major city to take on the plan, according to a history of bike-share programs by City Lab. In 1995, Danes in Copenhagen set up a coin-deposit bike system, the Bycyklen or City Bikes. But in just a year, students at Portsmouth University were running magnetic-strip cards to borrow bikes. In 1998, Vélo à la Carte in Rennes, France implemented the model across its city. The program came to Washington D.C. in the form of a 120-bike pilot program.
By 2015, there were an estimated 1 million bike-share bicycles with three out of four located in China. According to the Bike Sharing World Map, which keeps track of cities where bike-share programs operate, a number of Iowa cities have these program already including Mason City, Pocahontas, Des Moines, Pella and nearby Cedar Rapids.
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Zachary Oren Smith writes about government, growth and development for the Press-Citizen. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319 -339-7354, and follow him on Twitter via @zacharyos.