Bike Share program coming to NRV area

Photo courtesy of GOTCHA, bike sharing
Gotcha bike _ The Gotcha bike has made its way to several major cities around the country with institutions of learning, and in most cases, they take on the identity of that community. For example: University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNC-W) Hawks.

The number of bicyclists on roads and trails in the New River Valley continue to increase, and the demand for places to rent bicycles has also been on the rise.

While several retail locations in Blacksburg already offer rentals, there will also soon be a new way that individuals can use for riding such places like the Huckleberry Trail. Bike rentals are coming soon to areas near the trail and throughout the Virginia Tech campus.

The entities of Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Montgomery County and Virginia Tech have reached a memorandum of understanding to begin a bikeshare program, similar to one being operated in Roanoke and several other communities around the Commonwealth. Christiansburg town council approved the measure Tuesday night during its regularly scheduled meeting.

An initial grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will provide funding of $200,000 with each community providing a local match combined of $50,000.

Because of Virginia Tech being the largest user of the new program, the university will provide 66 percent of the match with Blacksburg and Christiansburg splitting the remaining amount. The group will contract with a company Gotcha, who will provide the service.

The grant will setup eight bike stations (two in Christiansburg, two in Blacksburg and four on the campus of Virginia Tech. An estimated 88 bikes will be purchased with as many as 130 racks with at least a dozen of the bikes being electric.

Users will be able to rent the bicycles by a variety of electronic ways with the each being tracked by a GPS system.

Christiansburg Parks and Recreation Director Brad Epperley is excited about the project. He has headed up the advisory committee since its early discussion.

“We wanted to participate in a regional bikeshare program because we know having alternative transportation options is important to our community. We’ve seen that through the use of the Huckleberry Trail and the desire for more trails and sidewalks in our town. We know our residents are interested in healthy living and various recreation opportunities, and we see this bikeshare program as another offering we can provide to improve quality of life,” he said.

Epperley also called it a wonderful opportunity to continue the town’s partnerships and regional collaboration with its neighboring communities.

“You can rent a bike in Blacksburg and return it in Christiansburg, or vice versa; you can use it for commuting from the town you live in to the town you work in. We’re making it easier for our residents to explore all of Montgomery County and have fun doing it. We hope the bikeshare program will only continue to grow, allowing for more bike stations throughout town and more opportunities for residents to use the service,” he said.

Initially the group had hoped the project could kick off this month, but Epperley said now it might be another month before the equipment and bikes are ready for use.

The City of Roanoke launched a similar program last May and has already added the number of bicyclists that are available in and around their downtown area. In most cases, users can rent the bicycle by the hour or for the day. The Roanoke program also offers an annual fee for users.

According to information provided by the company, Gotcha Bike is the only fully customizable, turnkey bike share system—built by their team in Charleston, South Carolina. The company’s “smart bike” is tech-enabled to create dockless or hub-based bike systems, giving partners the freedom to create a mobility solution designed to suit the needs of their community.

Rentals can be done by an application on individual’s cellphones.

Participants can ride a bike anywhere, and even put the bike “on hold” if they would like to make a stop before ending their ride at a designated station. For an additional fee, users may end their ride outside of a dedicated station.

Currently, Gotcha Bike provides bike share programs at 12 college, residential and corporate campuses across the U.S.

Durability features of the specially made bikes include a lightweight and rustproof aluminum frame, waterproof Kevlar seats and puncture-resistant tires, which offer a maintenance-free smart bike.

Gotcha states that, “the integrated technology and flashing safety lights are powered through a built-in solar panel and dynamo hub, giving riders real-time data from each bike ride, such as carbon dioxide emissions reduced, calories burned and money saved versus driving.”

The exact locations for the racks in the New River Valley will be unveiled in the coming weeks with possible use by the end of May.