Bike share program riding a wave of popularity

Many people take their adventures on wheels-- most often four of them, but a new bike sharing program in Port Huron is helping the public explore and run errands on two.

Whether it's to explore the river walk or take a quick trip to the grocery store, the bike rental program is seeing early success.

Port Huron's bike share program is up and running with a slew of riders opting for handlebars instead of steering wheels.
Since the bikes' July 12 unveiling, 273 trips have been taken by 177 people who downloaded the Zagster app accompanying the bikes.

"So far we're happy with the figures and so is Zagster," Dave McElroy, assistant general manager and finance director of Blue Water Area Transit, says.

Users pay to unlock public bicycles at one of four stations in Port Huron using the app, or text for a code. They can stop and lock the bike in regular bike racks or poles as they ride to their destination, not having to check in at each Zagster docking station along the way. After traveling around town, bikes go back to any of four docking stations, which have 20 total bikes among them. They are located at Blue Water Area Transit's Bus Center, St. Clair Community College's student center, the Blue Water Convention Center, and at the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.

The program has 38 annual members signed up, which means they pay a $20 annual fee to avoid the first hour's payment of each ride. Rides cost $2 an hour up to $18 a day, with a $24 fee charged after 24 hours. Average rides so far in Port Huron are 42 minutes, says McElroy. In Chicago, the average is much less, about 8 or 9.

BWAT provides around 108,000 trips a month around the area. Adding Bike Port Huron to the mix was a sensible incorporation because it is eligible for state funding, and offers many benefits to the community.

"Biking is a fun, fast way to get around our city. It is faster and more efficient than walking and is better for the environment than all modern vehicles. We hope having the opportunity to rent these bikes will allow our community to see the benefit bicycling can have on our city," says Kurt Eppley, co-owner of Alpine Cycles.

Alpine Cycles maintains the bikes for Zagster. So far, Eppley says the public has treated them well, and maintenance has been "minimal and routine." Mechanics are sent out every other week to take a look at the stations.
The Zagster 8 is perfect for easy riding and keeps trips simple. The bicycles have baskets, an adjustable seat, fenders and a chain guard, and automatic lights.

"These bikes do very well for the style of riding Port Huron is known for. All of Zagster's bikes are made with comfort and convenience in mind," Eppley says.

The bicycles are meant for tourists and locals. For those who live and work in Port Huron, it can fill in small gaps other types of transit leave, like a quarter- or half-mile between a bus stop and a business or home. Visitors often look for bike shares in cities as a way to extend their range of travel and see more of the city they're discovering. Zagster, the Massachusetts company behind the bikes, has more than 190 programs nationwide. The bikes let tourists know they are in the right place for activities, and let a city tell them, "We're here! Come explore!”

The closest Zagster programs to the Blue Water region are in Flint and Warren. Zagster is also in Detroit. McElroy credits City Manager James Freed in being "progressive"in seeing the potential of Bike Port Huron and reaching out to sponsors.
Sponsorships for this alternative mode of transportation are $6,000 from the Blue Water Area Transit, $4,500 each from the Blue Water Convention and Visitors Bureau, St. Clair County Community College, the Downtown Development Authority, and Fletcher Fealko Shoudy and Francis law firm, along with $12,000 from the Michigan Department of Transportation Grant.
"We've sponsored this program, and essentially it's just to do the little bit we can to help revitalize downtown and create more reasons for people to want to be downtown," Gary Fletcher of the law firm says.

There is a need for more help. The program is being piloted for a year. There has already been a one month review, but McElroy says they will know more about how well the bikes fund themselves after three months.

"We're hoping that eventually it will become larger, but we'll have to wait and see. Quite frankly, what we're going to need is more sponsors to move this forward," McElroy says. "I'm sure that if we want to expand or continue this service, we're going to need sponsors in the coming year."

The bike share has been going according to plan so far, and the bikes are being used by tourists, as well as residents. This could be a trendsetting innovation that leads the way for other Blue Water communities, or without the help of additional sponsors, it could ride off in to the sunset.
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