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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 8, 2021 1 week ago

City seeks partner for bike, scooter service

The city hopes to capitalize on the extension of the Legacy Trail as it works to expand its transportation offerings.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

The city has spent more than two years searching for a company to provide bike rental services for the public, but so far, it hasn’t found a long-term match.

Transportation planning officials hope that will change soon. On Monday, the City Commission authorized staff to issue a request for proposals seeking vendors to operate bike-share and scooter-share programs. Ahead of Monday’s meeting, Chief Transportation Planner Colleen McGue said enhanced micromobility offerings are a key part of the city’s vision for the future.

The decision to seek a new bike-share operator came after the company I Bike Sarasota informed the city it intended to end an existing rental partnership. In 2020, the city allowed I Bike Sarasota to place about a dozen bikes for rental in a parking garage on St. Armands Circle. The city later expanded that partnership to include a rental area in the Palm Avenue parking garage downtown. Visitors could rent bikes at a rate of $10 for two hours and $25 for 48 hours.

McGue said I Bike Sarasota decided to end its partnership because the operator was retiring from the rental business. Already, McGue said the city has received communication from a local rental company interested in providing bike-share services within the city. McGue said the company indicated they were reaching out in part because of the looming completion of the Legacy Trail extension to Payne Park, expected to open in early 2022.

“That was one of the reasons why they’re very interested in doing this, is the potential for that market — visitors wanting to hop on a bike, ride down the Legacy Trail,” McGue said.

McGue noted the Legacy Trail extension presented an opportunity for increased bike ridership in the city, but it also posed some logistical challenges. Because the Legacy Trail runs into unincorporated Sarasota County, McGue said it’s likely that some riders would want to return their bikes in areas not under the city’s jurisdiction. As the city works to find a private operator, McGue said staff could reach out to the county to explore options for overcoming those challenges.

At Monday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Kyle Battie questioned whether bike rental stations would only be available downtown or if the vendor could offer them in other parts of the city. McGue said any determination about rental locations would be made during negotiations between the prospective vendor and city staff, but it’s possible bike racks could be offered throughout the city. McGue noted that, during a 2019 search for a bike share operator, both applicants submitted their proposals for rental locations, which staff reviewed for safety and other considerations.

The city was unanimous in its desire to seek a bike rental vendor, but Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch expressed opposition to the prospect of exploring options for electric scooter rentals.

“There are big safety issues with those,” Ahearn-Koch said.

The rest of the commission favored moving forward with scooters. In 2018 and 2019, officials held exploratory conversations with scooter companies about offering services in the city, though no program came to fruition. McGue said state laws regulating e-scooters have changed since 2019: Today, scooters are allowed by right in municipalities where bikes are permitted unless local governments establish rules prohibiting their use. McGue said scooter rental programs across the country have generated concerns about parking and vehicle storage, but she said it appears companies have developed strategies designed to address those issues.

In addition to traditional bikes and e-scooters, McGue said the city is open to exploring a broad range of micromobility offerings. She said staff is drawing inspiration from similar programs in Tampa and St. Petersburg,and that vehicles, such as seated scooters and electric bikes, could warrant further consideration as the city advances its search for a vendor.

“There are a lot of different options that currently are not being offered in the city,” McGue said.

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