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Electric bikes coming to St. Petersburg bike-share program in April

The City Council approved an agreement with Lime to supply 300 e-bikes for the next three years.
 
St. Petersburg's bike share program is being phased out and replaced with electric bikes. This is a bike rack on Central Avenue in the Grand Central District.
St. Petersburg's bike share program is being phased out and replaced with electric bikes. This is a bike rack on Central Avenue in the Grand Central District. [ Times (2018) ]
Published March 27, 2023|Updated March 27, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — The city is swapping out manual bicycles in its bike-share program for electric bikes.

The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a new three-year agreement to replenish the city’s existing bike-share program with 300 e-bikes. These bikes will be out on the streets in mid- to late April, though there will be a short lapse between vendors.

With the change, the city is expected to save $60,000 a year in operating expenses compared to the current program. The new vendor, Neutron Holdings, known as Lime, could add up to 500 e-bikes based on demand with no charge to the city. The bikes are not automatic — they require pedaling to activate the electrical function.

City Council member Gina Driscoll called it the next chapter of the city’s ride-share adventure.

“It’s really encouraging to see the technology and the approach to shared mobility,” she said. “With this we’re catching up our bike-share to match up with e-scooters.”

These bikes weigh 70 pounds with a swappable battery that allows for travel up to 25 miles on a single charge. The assisted speed maxes out at 15 mph, which is the same pace as electric scooters. They have an adjustable seat, a retractable cable lock, a large basket and a cellphone holder.

It costs $1 to unlock and start the bike and 39 cents a minute, Lime’s lowest rate in Florida. A ride pass can also be purchased for bulk minutes of ride time.

Lime is also offering a 70% discount for those who receive federal, state or local financial assistance because of their income. They also offer a $1 off rental discount to incentivize reparking improperly parked bikes or bikes in overcrowded corrals or for wearing a helmet — proven by taking a selfie.

The city is also expanding the service area west along Central Avenue and south to the Skyway Marina District. Evan Mory, the city’s director of transportation and parking management, said the city focused on connections from the Pinellas Trail to the Clam Bayou and Skyway trails. Bikes are allowed to be ridden outside of the service area but must be parked within bounds.

“We look for those good safe places to ride,” he said.

Like scooters, e-bikes are motorized and are not allowed on sidewalks. They must be parked in designated corrals. The city, instead of the vendor under the prior agreement, will manage bike hubs.

The city’s current agreement with CycleHop, the city’s vendor since 2016, sunsets on Friday.

Over the past seven years, the city purchased 300 pedal bikes, which are now toward the end of their useful life. More than 120,000 trips were taken. When e-bikes were added in February 2021, about two-thirds of all trips were taken on e-bikes, which only made up a quarter of the fleet. The city currently spends $5,250 a month on a technology connectivity fee.

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The city declined to renew the agreement and sought a new vendor late last year. Two vendors responded, and Lime was selected by city staff and members of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce staff. Lime offered to provide a new fleet of e-bikes.

Veo Ride, whose electric scooters are used in St. Petersburg, was the other bidder. But the evaluation committee discounted its proposal for only offering 50 pedal bikes with e-bikes that work more like a scooter than a bike.

Lime operates bikes and scooters in 200 cities in nearly 30 countries, including Miami, Tampa and Orlando. There will be seven Lime staff members in St. Petersburg for customer service.