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Cleveland weighs competing bike share operators with an eye on funding citywide system

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/03/15 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Biking

When a group of bar and restaurant owners in Ohio City made it their business to bring bike share into the neighborhood, they found Zagster, a company that has set up bike rental programs on leafy corporate and college campuses. The appeal of Zagster is its lightweight (read: cheap and easy to place, mostly on private property) alternative to the big boys in the bike share market like B-Cycle and Alta.

<br />Sam McNulty, owner of Market Garden Brewery and one of the Ohio City bike share partners, tests a Zagster bike at the launch.

The Ohio City bike share was first to market, but is it the best option for Cleveland?

While the private sector deserves credit for not waiting for permission to bring a new, sustainable mobility option to market, critics note that it did muddy the waters on the “official” bike share development effort led by Cleveland, RTA, community development groups like University Circle, Inc. and the Cleveland Metroparks. The Bike Share Task Force still meets today and is in the process of marshaling major funding support for a citywide bike share system.

Can the bootstrap Ohio City system—which is essentially the West Side Market as the hub with five spokes to popular destinations like the Flats, the Warehouse District and a distant outpost in University Circle—jibe with the aspirational citywide bike share plan?

The Bike Share Task Force still holds many cards. With a consultant-led feasibility study in hand, they released an RFQ last month looking for an operator to roll out a system that will likely follow the industry standard 300 bike/30 station system (identified in the Cleveland study as feasible and the model which Columbus and Cincinnati followed with B-Cycle and Alta, respectively).

Three bike share operators responded to the RFQ which is being evaluated by the task force this week. Unconfirmed reports put Zagster in the running. The nonprofit BikeCleveland is involved and plans to hire a bike share manager as soon as the winner of the RFQ is announced.

On the funding side, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) recently announced that they are accepting project applications for a $1.7 million fund. The uncommitted funds come from NOACA being more efficient at generating projects for the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) program this year. It spent its entire allocation and qualified for this "left over" CMAQ funding that other MPOs around Ohio did not use.

Bike share is eligible for the funds, and, sources confirm, Cuyahoga County will submit an application for $700,000 of the $1.7 million NOACA funds to either expand the Zagster system or build a bigger and possibly competing bike share system. The City of Cleveland could also submit an application separately and close the gap needed to green light a full-scale roll out.

There are pros and cons either way with Zagster—as Columbus is about to discover. Columbus’ CoGo system was launched a year ago with a city investment of $2 million, but Ohio State University just announced that it will contract with Zagster to launch bike share on campus rather than joining CoGo, citing costs as the main reason. This despite CoGo’s plans to expand further into the city.

At least in Cleveland’s case, if Zagster wins the contract for the citywide system it won’t be competing against another system. The other pro is Zagster costs considerably less (about 1/3 of the cost per station) than the big operators. But, the big guys come with a track record of running a citywide system while Zagster has yet to show if it can scale its campus model.

Either way, it appears the marquee partnership that formed the Bike Share Task Force in Cleveland is about to pull the trigger on a citywide system.

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Chris S
2 years ago

I really hope the Bike Share Task Force has visited other successful bike shares. Montreal's bike share changed my whole trip there. It was easy to use and affordable. It was also integrated with transit, which is essential.
Ease of use is also crucial. If Montreal required an app similar to Zagster it would have been very cumbersome since I didn't even have cell service in Canada.

Also, last time I used it a few months ago, I rode from Ohio City CDC to Platform. There was no place to lock at Platform since the rack was full. So, I locked to another bike. When I came out there were NO bikes, so I had to walk. The bike share needs to be reliable and Zagster in my experience is not.

Excited to see a citywide bike share though, just hope we can get it right.

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