Thursday, June 21, 2018
Transportation

St. Petersburg's bike share program off to a promising start

ST. PETERSBURG — On a recent sunny Wednesday afternoon, Nicole Ruiz decided to try a new app along the waterfront.

She wasn't chasing Pokémon. Instead she and a friend, Chris Alexander, made their way to a rack of bikes near the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.

"This is so cool," said Ruiz, 23, as the St. Petersburg resident fiddled with her phone to figure out how to release the bike.

Within minutes, Ruiz was pedaling alongside Alexander, 32, on his personal bike. They headed to Green Bench Brewing Co.

Alexander, newly arrived from Winter Park, said the bike share was another reason he doesn't regret moving to St. Petersburg.

"I'm never going to leave this town," he quipped as they prepared for a leisurely ride west for beer.

Ruiz and Alexander aren't the only satisfied customers. Early results for the city's fledgling bike share program look promising.

During November, the first full month of the Coast Bike Share program's soft launch, plenty of people took the 100 bikes spread around 10 hubs for surprisingly long spins — most of them casual users.

Some quick facts:

An average of 46 trips were taken per day over the month by 524 riders.

The average length of a ride for someone who paid for a single trip was nearly 3 miles.

In all, riders traversed 3,484 miles of the city, venturing as far north as 40th Avenue N, south to 26th Avenue S and west to 37th Street.

A little more than two-thirds of riders chose the one-time, pay-as-you-go option at $8 per hour. The other third bought memberships.

"The territory those trips have covered is really impressive," said St. Petersburg transportation director Evan Mory. "I would call that a surprise. People are not just staying in the core, they're exploring other places."

St. Petersburg is also beginning to figure out what kinds of trips the riders are taking.

Plenty of riders have ended up slipping a bike out from a rack (or hub) near the Vinoy Renaissance and cycling up to Snell Isle, said Eric Trull, program director of Coast Bike Share.

They have also explored Old Southeast, Mory said, and ridden along the bulk of Central Avenue's commercial district.

Program and city officials can track where riders go using the GPS installed on the bikes.

So far, only one-third of the program is operational. By the end of January, another 20-odd hubs and 200 bikes will be added, which will bring the city's fleet up to 300 bikes and more than 30 hubs.

Mory said business owners around downtown are asking for hubs to be placed near their venues.

Increasingly popular around the country as an alternate form of "last mile" transportation, bike shares fill a niche for trips that may be a bit too far for walking, but not far enough for a car ride.

The full launch was originally slated for December, but a glitch obtaining bonds and a backlog in obtaining more durable parts for the bikes pushed it back a month or so, Trull said.

"Seven weeks to go. The pressure is on," Trull said of the Jan. 31 deadline for full implementation.

Coast's bike share operation has been active in Tampa for two years, but Trull predicts St. Petersburg's program will quickly surpass its rival across the bay.

The reason? Geography.

"Tampa's downtown core is surrounded on three sides by water. St. Pete is significantly easier. We're fortunate to have the grid system," Trull said.

In fact, 11 percent of St. Petersburg riders are from Tampa, second only to St. Petersburg's 42 percent. So far, the ridership is overwhelmingly local (64 percent from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties), indicating a mix of curious locals, commuters and day-trippers from the Tampa Bay region, according to ZIP codes culled from riders' credit cards. However, riders from 28 states have tried the bikes.

The city is spending $1.5 million for the program, buying bikes and other infrastructure up front. For the next three years, all maintenance and operational costs will be handled by Coast.

Getting the program up and running has been a political fight. Last October, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced he wanted to use $1 million in BP settlement money to fund the program. After City Council members balked, preferring to use more money to fix sewage problems, the amount was gradually whittled down to $250,000. Council members approved it in April.

The balance of the money for the program comes from the city's parking revenue and transportation fees, Mory said.

City Council member Darden Rice said the bike share's early returns "speak for themselves."

"It is always a push getting a new program started, but once people see its success they value it greatly," she said. "It is one more thing that makes St. Pete special."

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

Comments
Petition language reveals details of Hillsborough sales tax transportation initiative

Petition language reveals details of Hillsborough sales tax transportation initiative

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections on Friday approved petition language that will let a new group of transportation advocates begin gathering the 48,000 signatures they need to get a sales tax initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.All ...
Published: 06/15/18
Carlton: A trolley instead of a boondoggle? About time, Tampa

Carlton: A trolley instead of a boondoggle? About time, Tampa

You could rightly call the vintage streetcars that trundle between downtown Tampa and Ybor City big, beautiful boondoggles.Charming?Yes. An integral part of this city’s unique history?Absolutely.And in their current incarnation, overpriced, inefficie...
Published: 06/15/18
Federal judge halts work on Suncoast 2 toll road

Federal judge halts work on Suncoast 2 toll road

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody, Jr. granted a temporary restraining order on Thursday to halt the work that has already begun on the extension of the Suncoast Parkway — aka the controversial "Suncoast 2."The toll road now ends at U.S. 98 at the n...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Hillsborough group pushing new referendum on raising sales tax for transportation

Hillsborough group pushing new referendum on raising sales tax for transportation

TAMPA — In 2010, Hillsborough voters soundly rejected a 1 cent sales tax hike backed by their elected leaders to raise billions of dollars for roads, bus expansion and light rail. In 2016, county commissioners helped develop a new transportation plan...
Published: 06/14/18
SunPass apologizes to customers who couldn’t access accounts after website maintenance

SunPass apologizes to customers who couldn’t access accounts after website maintenance

Users were unable to access their SunPass accounts on Monday after the release of a system redesign that took the system’s web site, app and hotlines down for a week.From June 5-11, the SunPass website, hotlines and mobile app were taken down for sys...
Published: 06/14/18
Elon Musk to build 125 mph underground transit line serving Chicago O’Hare

Elon Musk to build 125 mph underground transit line serving Chicago O’Hare

Elon Musk has taken on a task perhaps more challenging than launching rockets into space: getting passengers from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the Loop in 12 minutes, roughly three to four times as fast as the current taxi journey.The plan for the "Ch...
Published: 06/14/18
This trooper pulled over a driver - then realized the man had delivered him nearly 27 years ago

This trooper pulled over a driver - then realized the man had delivered him nearly 27 years ago

New Jersey state trooper Michael Patterson was on patrol recently when he pulled over a white BMW for a routine traffic stop.He asked the driver for his license and registration, and the two started making small talk. It turned out that the driver, M...
Published: 06/13/18
Fares eliminated on downtown Tampa trolley following FDOT grant

Fares eliminated on downtown Tampa trolley following FDOT grant

TAMPA — Fares on the TECO Line Streetcar in downtown Tampa will be eliminated for three years following a grant funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.The grant provide $2.67 million to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, allowing it to t...
Published: 06/12/18
Tampa road work forces office workers to wait up to an hour to get out of their parking garage every day

Tampa road work forces office workers to wait up to an hour to get out of their parking garage every day

TAMPA — At 42 floors tall, the largest office building on Florida’s Gulf Coast offers some spectacular views.But good luck getting out of it.Since the start of a $5.7 million street resurfacing project late last year on Kennedy Boulevard and Jackson ...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18
After 43 years driving cabs, he has plenty of stories to tell

After 43 years driving cabs, he has plenty of stories to tell

A criminal on the run? Check. Two drunk elderly women seeking a threesome? Check. A repentant murderer? A possible ghost? A stabbing victim who doesn’t seem to know he’s been stabbed? Check, check and check. Come up with an outrageous scenario and Je...
Published: 06/08/18
Updated: 06/11/18