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Is St. Petersburg cool enough for a bike share program?

CycleHop’s bike share is branded as “Coast.” In Tampa, Coast’s bikes are bright blue. 
St. Petersburg has indicated it would want a different color.
CycleHop’s bike share is branded as “Coast.” In Tampa, Coast’s bikes are bright blue. St. Petersburg has indicated it would want a different color.
Published Nov. 8, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa has one, so do Orlando and Miami Beach.

So how does the city with a 7-mile stretch of waterfront and a long, sizzling-hot commercial corridor along Central Avenue not have a bike share program?

All the millennial meccas have one, and that's a new source of revenue that St. Petersburg officials would love.

The city just has to decide if it wants to spend the money.

Last month, Mayor Rick Kriseman urged council members to steer $1 million in BP settlement funds to a bike share.

But they balked and that source of funding is now in doubt.

Despite not having a clear cash pot, a city selection committee on Friday unanimously ranked CycleHop, which operates the Tampa bike share, as its first choice to be the vendor.

The committee delayed a final selection until Nov. 16 because city officials want more financial details about the company.

If the CycleHop proposal is chosen, the city would pay about $1.2 million to buy 300 bikes and related materials. But it wouldn't pay any operating costs.

That isn't quite as sweet a deal as Tampa got when it launched its bike share program last year. CycleHop wanted to test new technology and chose Tampa as a demonstration city. Such a deal wasn't offered to St. Petersburg.

Tampa didn't pay anything up front nor does it pay for any operating costs. But, Tampa doesn't have the chance to split profits like St. Petersburg will if the program is successful, said Evan Mory, the city's transportation director.

At Friday's meeting, committee members said they liked CycleHop because its bikes don't have to be parked at fixed stations and the company showed superior knowledge of the local market. The company's bid was also cheaper, they said.

CycleHop's bike share is branded as "Coast." In Tampa, Coast's bikes are bright blue. In St. Petersburg, the city wants a different color.

Another vendor, BCycle, a Wisconsin-based company owned by the bicycle manufacturer Trek, offered a viable product. But the company wasn't aware of the city's arts scene and referred to its waterfront as a beach.

"Local knowledge really is important to me," said Sharon Wright, the city's sustainability coordinator and a committee member.

BCycle's bid was also more expensive, between $1.8 million and $1.9 million.

Tampa's positive feedback on Coast also helped. Mory said Tampa officials told him that Coast could start up the bike share smoothly.

Kriseman has said he would like the city to have its program up and running by the spring or summer.

Mory said the city plans to work with the vendor to make sure people who don't have credit cards or checking accounts can rent a bike, maybe through corporate sponsorships or Bank on St. Pete, a low- or no-cost banking program that seeks to help people who normally rely on check-cashing stores to open checking accounts.

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"We're not just going to put the bikes in the very core of downtown," Mory said.

Instead, the city plans to initially put kiosks and routes south on 22nd Street to 18th or 22nd avenue and west on Central Avenue to 31st Street. Other routes would travel north on Fourth Street to Sunken Gardens and along the waterfront to Coffee Pot Bayou.

The hope is that not just tourists or day-trippers will hop on a bike.

Now, the city just needs to find the startup money.

"I'm still hopeful that some BP money might be allocated for this, but that's far from certain at this point," Mory said.

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

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