A fleet of easy-access rental bikes is headed to the streets of Tampa — and maybe St. Petersburg — though not as soon as officials hoped.
In Tampa, city officials announced in March that two vendors had been selected to create a bike-sharing program in downtown and Ybor City, with a rollout expected in the fall.
Now they're looking at the first quarter of 2014. Part of the reason is that the manufacturer is about to come out with a new generation of bikes equipped with electronics making them easier to rent. (Bike-share program members will simply tap a plastic card on the back of the bikes, put in a PIN and ride.) So Tampa Bay Bike Share is waiting for those bikes to become available.
"You'll notice that iPhone sales fall right before the brand-new model comes out. That's kind of the same idea here," said Andrew Blikken, the program manager for Tampa Bay Bike Share, the local presence of CycleHop, the Miami Beach company Tampa selected to operate its bike-share program.
Another contributing factor: Finding the sites for bike racks has taken more time than anticipated.
"It never gets done as fast as I would like it to," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "I think it was just ambitious from the get-go and we didn't realize some of hurdles the company would have to overcome. So it's not unexpected."
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, city officials have been talking with Tampa Bay Bike Share and CycleHop, but still have to negotiate a contract to be presented to the St. Petersburg City Council.
"Once City Council approves it, then we'll be working as diligently as we can to get the program under way," said Cheryl Stacks, St. Petersburg's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.
In Tampa, officials selected manufacturer Social Bicycles of New York City along with CycleHop to launch its program. Under a 10-year contract approved in spring, the program will not cost the city anything, but Tampa officials are letting the operator place bikes, racks and service kiosks on public rights of way, as well as sell advertising on the bikes.
The goal, Buckhorn says, is to enhance the "urban experience" in Tampa and make downtown more walkable, ridable, retail-oriented and pedestrian-friendly.
To use the bikes, riders would purchase a membership for $79 per year or rent the bikes through "pay as you go" memberships that start at $5 per hour or $25 per day. Blikken said program officials are looking into creating a lower-cost membership for college students.
The bikes themselves would have seats that could be adjusted for riders from 5 feet 1 to 6 feet 6, plus Kevlar tires, grease-free drive shafts, antitheft GPS technology and bells on the handlebars.
Blikken said organizers are getting ready to sign a lease in Ybor City for the Tampa program headquarters, aim to roll out the suggested station sites in early November and plan to start a membership drive around the first of the year, which should be about 30 days before the launch of the program. Tampa Bay Bike Share plans to deploy 300 bikes at 30 locations around downtown Tampa, Ybor City and in the Hyde Park area and is working to bring another 300 bikes to St. Petersburg.
Organizers have a goal of signing up 10 members per bike in the first 90 days. At that level, organizers would expect each bike to be used an average of six to eight times per day.
"That is a system operating very efficiently," Blikken said. "That's what we're aiming for."
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] Follow @Danielson_Times on Twitter.