TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn was so happy to introduce Tampa's new Coast bike rental program, he popped a wheelie Tuesday.
"Here we go," Buckhorn said, prewheelie, at a news conference. "What I envision over the next six months, a year and over the next five to 10 years, is these blue bikes all over Tampa."
The initial fleet of 300 bicycles is expected to make its debut this spring, with memberships running from $5 per hour to $30 a month or $79 a year ($59 for students). So far, Coast's operators have identified more than two dozen hubs for bike racks and service kiosks. Those pickup and dropoff sites include one hub each on Davis Islands, in Hyde Park and on Bayshore Boulevard.
Agreements for more hubs in the Channel District are being negotiated, city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said.
Last spring, a partnership between CycleHop of Miami Beach and Social Bicycles of New York City won city approval to launch the program, which will be similar to those found in New York and a growing number of cities worldwide.
Over time, City Hall wants more bikes so the program can go to West Shore, Seminole Heights and the University of South Florida. Just like the city's encouragement for building more downtown apartments, restaurants and shops, Coast is aimed at "creating an environment that is pedestrian-driven" and "chock full of urban amenities," Buckhorn said.
"Coast just isn't about bikes; it's about creating community," program spokesman Eric Trull said. "In less time than it takes to find a parking space, you can coast your way from door to door."
Buckhorn's administration first aimed to have the program up and running last fall, but finding bike racks has taken longer than anticipated.
The bikes cost about $1,000 each, are sturdy and are designed to be used by many different riders, with a seat that adjusts for riders ranging from 5 feet 1 to 6 feet 6. They have Kevlar tires, grease-free drive shafts and on-board GPS to track bikes and thwart thieves.
A 10-year contract between the city and the Social Bicycles-CycleHop partnership does not require taxpayers to spend anything on the program. Instead, the city plans to allow the operators to put the bikes, racks and service kiosks on public rights of way, as well as sell advertising. Coast is looking for program sponsors, including for individual stations, an opportunity it says might work for small businesses.
Once Coast is launched, riders will be able to use a mobile app — app.socialbicycles.com — and a credit card to reserve a bike, or they can pick one up from one of Coast's kiosks using the bike's built-in keypad. After reserving a bike, users will enter a four-digit PIN code to unlock the bike. Then off they go, with a built-in computer timing the ride.
If riders want to stop at a store or cafe, they can press a "HOLD" button and use the lock that comes with the bike to secure it to a rack. Their PIN unlocks the bike so they can continue riding. The monthly and annual memberships come with one hour of riding time per day, which can be broken into multiple rides.
"We find that the average ride is about 14 minutes," Trull said. Beyond the first hour, each additional half-hour of riding time will cost $2.50, up to $25.
Post-wheelie, Buckhorn predicted Coast will succeed where Tampa's first try at bike sharing failed.
In 1997, the city launched the Orangecycle program with a few dozen junker bikes scavenged from unclaimed police inventory. Workers spray-painted them traffic-cone orange and left them unlocked around town. Within a few weeks, every single Orangecycle had been stolen again.
With Coast, riders won't get the bikes until they give a credit card, which should deter theft, the mayor said. The business model has worked in city after city around the country, and the bikes themselves are nicer to ride.
"It's a big difference," Buckhorn said. "Tampa's in a different place. You didn't have people living in downtown to the extent that we do now, certainly not in the numbers that we do. The neighborhoods weren't as connected. It wasn't as safe to move between the neighborhoods. Now you can get from Ybor to downtown and downtown to Hyde Park almost seamlessly. It's going to be good."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, email@example.com or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.