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New fleet of St. Pete rental bikes will include 50 with motors

Questions were raised about the $13-per-bike city subsidy. Plans call for using the electric bikes to extend routes into other parts of the city.
The St. Petersburg City Council voted Thursday to expand its bike share program by replacing its existing bikes with new ones and adding 50 electric bikes. [Times (2018)]

ST. PETERSBURG — The city is expanding its bike-share program, this time with 50 electric cruisers that won’t require their riders to pedal.

The battery-powered bikes are expected to hit St. Petersburg bike racks sometime in the next four months after the City Council voted Thursday to approve the expansion.

They’ll be joined by 300 new pedal bikes to replace the used bikes first rolled out three years ago. CycleHop, the city’s partner in the bike share program, is replacing the existing bikes at no cost to the city.

The city of St. Petersburg plans to buy 50 HOPR E-Bikes with mid-drive motors, like the one pictured here. [CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG]

The city has seen an average of 3,000 bike rentals a month, transportation director Evan Mory told council members. Riders have taken nearly 116,000 trips since February 2017 and traveled more than 241,000 miles on the rental bikes, city data shows.

"The number of trips and the miles is really impressive,” Council member Robert Blackmon said. “The fact that we’re replacing the existing fleet with cost savings is really incredible.”

Related: More St. Petersburg residents using bike share program on a regular basis

Tampa’s bike share program logs about 4,000 rentals a month. Tampa doesn’t have any electric bikes to rent, but is considering adding some the next time it renews its contract, city transportation director Jean Duncan said.

St. Petersburg originally spent $1.5 million to launch the Coast Bike Share program with CycleHop. This means the city has spent about $13 on each rental since 2016, council chair Ed Montanari said.

That’s similar to the nearly $14 per trip that local governments pay for Cross-Bay Ferry passengers and more than double the $5 per passenger cost of a trip on county buses.

Local and state governments also subsidize road systems, using other tax revenues to make up the amount not covered by gas taxes, Mory noted. He pointed to a report showing that gas taxes cover less than half the amount now and that drivers and non-drivers alike pay the subsidy.

Related: A question as the Cross-Bay Ferry returns: what do we get for the money?

“I do want to point out that it’s an expensive option for our city,” Montanari said, adding that he sees a lot of people using the bikes, especially downtown. “I’m glad we’re looking at expanding it throughout the city.”

Bike share expansion was on the minds of a number of council members Thursday, especially with the introduction of electric bikes and the longer trips they make possible.

Electric bikes have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour and a range of about 40 miles per charge, Mory said. Because of that, he said, expansion along the Pinellas Trail and connecting paths makes the most sense.

“Because they’re faster, because they have a better range, I think the trails are where we’d look first,” Mory said.

Related: These animations of a single day of Coast bike rides in Tampa and St. Pete are very cool

From there, the city could look into remote bike shares in the Skyway Marina District or Carillon Business Park in the Gateway area. Council member Gina Driscoll said she would like to see additional bikes in the southern part of the city.

The 50 electric bikes will cost the city about $75,000, which officials will pull from a $150,000 reserve originally put aside in case the city needed to replace the 300 standard bikes. The remaining $75,000 could be spent on more electric bikes, depending on how people react to the new option.

People will have to pay a slightly higher rate to rent an electric bike. Currently,it costs $20 to rent a bike for a day. An electric bike will be $5 more. Similarly, the cost of a year-long pass rises from $99 to $125 for electric.

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