February seemed like a strange time to launch an outdoor activity, but that’s exactly what happened when Zagster representatives came to town last week to make it only the second city in the U.S. (Tallahassee was the first – in December) offering Pace, a hybrid system of bike sharing that reconfigures the traditional model of bike share programs in order to make it more flexible and easy to use. A kickoff event was held at Balter and a ribbon cutting was held on Krutch Park.
You’ll notice the distinctive looking racks spread all around downtown, from Emory Place to the Old City, near Krutch Park, UT Campus, World’s Fair Park and more. A standard sign beside each gives instructions for getting started. It’s complicated, so are you ready: Download the app, use the app to find a bike, unlock it and start riding! Not complicated, at all. Knoxville users get their first thirty minute ride for free. After that, the cost is $1.50 for each half-hour.
The program is unique, in that the bikes may be left anywhere. The lock will attach to any bike rack or other fixed object and the ride is over when the user checks out, giving up access to the bike. To find the bikes left random places around the city only requires use of the app.
The funding and contractual arrangement is also somewhat unique. Visit Knoxville underwrote the cost of getting the program started in the city, along with operational costs for a year. Zagster owns the bikes and racks and will maintain the bikes, repair them and replace them, as needed. Zagster gets the usage fees, while Visit Knoxville will get sponsorship money from business or groups who put their logo on the bike baskets and racks.
Kim Bumpas told me that sponsorships are rapidly selling as people see the bikes and understand the potential for exposure. Visit Knoxville will get the continuing revenue from the sponsorships and as they hit the break-even point for the initial investment, Kim says they plan to expand the program further out from the center city and increase the numbers from the original 200 bikes and 20 racks. (Contact Visit Knoxville or Kim Bumpas if you’d like to become a sponsor.)
For the rest of us, the bike share program adds another dimension to transportation in the city, offering both practical benefits and large amounts of potential for fun. The bikes are perfect for riding the last mile to work after taking a bus, or scooting across the city to an appointment. Of course, there is also the leisure element. I can imagine families or couples coming to downtown for the Farmers’ Market and afterward taking the bikes out for a ride along the river or another greenway.
Tourists will also be a target group, as the bikes offer them an opportunity to explore the city without using their car, whether it’s city streets, outlying breweries and other attractions, greenways or the urban wilderness. Tired when you get to your location? No worries: lock the bike and take Urber or Lyft back to your hotel. Or ride it back and lock it up just outside your hotel at any bike rack. It’s really designed to be so flexible, it should fit any needs.
Another feature I really like is the Pace Perk program which allows one person to buy rides for another. It’s a perfect benefit for an employer to extend to employees, for example. It’s also just a nice thing to do for a friend or as a way of introducing someone to the ease with which the program may be used.
The intention isn’t to replace personal bicycles for those of us who use them regularly, though it might be a matter of convenience for us when our bike isn’t handy. Hopefully, the program will be a gateway to getting new cyclists up and riding which very well might lead to the purchase of their own bike and a new cyclist is born.
The presence of the program underlines the fact that we must have an infrastructure that insures our guest cyclists, whether tourists visiting the city, or a family from west Knoxville enjoying a day downtown, have a good cycling experience. This means a constant evaluation of what makes a successful trip on a bicycle enjoyable and/or effective and making sure those elements are in place and that obstacles to those successful trips are removed.
It’s a good addition to our expanding choices and a great encouragement to all of us to get outside, get active and enjoy the city. Judging by the random places I’ve seen the bikes locked up already, it looks like we’re on it.