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St. Petersburg starts pedaling toward bike share partnership

ST. PETERSBURG — It took three attempts, but a bike share program appears to be cruising toward reality in St. Petersburg.

In a non-binding vote, six City Council members signaled Thursday they supported Mayor Rick Kriseman's $1.5 million bike share proposal. They left open the question of how to pay for it.

The City Council should take a final vote in April if negotiations go as expected with CycleHop, which already runs Tampa's program.

If the council approves the final deal, the rental bikes could be available to residents and tourists by the fall.

Kriseman said the council's action was encouraging.

"It's an important piece of the transportation puzzle we're trying to cobble together, and it would be great for residents and for tourists," he said.

It hasn't been easy. When the mayor included $1 million toward the $1.5 million total cost of a bike share in his list of how to divvy up $6.5 million in BP funds from a settlement over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, the council balked in October.

Many council members wanted to dedicate all the money to fix the city's aging sewer system, which had been overwhelmed by torrential rains last summer forcing more than 30 million gallons of partially treated or untreated sewage into Boca Ciega and Tampa bays.

In January, the council still wasn't sold on the value of a bike share program.

But, over time, the council's attitude toward the BP money has softened. They agreed to spend $250,000 on a marine research vessel and $350,000 on a pilot ferry project to Tampa.

Yet it's still not clear that the $500,000 of BP money that Kriseman now is proposing to use for the bike share will gain council approval.

At Thursday's City Hall workshop, council member Jim Kennedy suggested splitting the costs of the program between parking revenue and impact fees paid by developers.

Kennedy said he wanted to keep the BP money in reserve until a scheduled March discussion on how to spend the settlement windfall.

Council member Darden Rice, who has been a steadfast supporter of the idea, said she was "agnostic" where the money came from, as long as the city moved forward.

Most council members seemed satisfied with the description of the program, which would start with 300 bikes scattered among 30 stations, mostly in downtown and along Central Avenue.

The city would own the bikes. CycleHop would repair them, market the service and handle liability issues.

If enough people take to the bikes, which would cost a prorated $8 per hour or up to $20 with a monthly pass (allowing 90 minutes of free riding daily), the city hopes to expand the program's reach.

An annual $79 membership also would be offered, said Eric Trull, a CycleHop representative.

The lone member to vote against the proposal, Steve Kornell, said he didn't oppose bike share in principle but believed the city had greater transportation priorities, like widening bike lanes and improving bus service. He also questioned whether the program would benefit southern and western neighborhoods.

In Tampa, the program has been a success with most of the riders in the first months of the program opting for one-day memberships. Tampa didn't have to pay any start-up costs as it was selected to be a test city by the vendor, which goes by the name Coast Bike Share there.

Since prices were tweaked in late 2015, the number of Tampa's monthly members has tripled, Trull said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow@Charlie Frago.

St. Petersburg starts pedaling toward bike share partnership 02/25/16 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2016 9:48pm]
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