NEWS: Bike share program still needs helmet solution

The prospect of a public bike share program coming to Vancouver has companies putting their heads together to come up with a solution to provincially mandated bike helmet laws.

Six companies have answered the City of Vancouvers Request for Expressions of Interest in operating the public bike share program with the aim to have it in place before Vancouver hosts The Velo-City international cycling conference next June.

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At issue for most companies will be supplying helmets and making them appealing to would-be bike commuters who may find the requirement discouraging. While public bike share systems have been a staple in European cities for years and are showing early success in Montreal and Toronto, PBS has not been widely embraced in cities where helmets are required, such as Melbourne, Australia.

The key to wooing would-be cyclists will be making the helmets as stylish and unobtrusive as possible, says Keith Ippel of Bike Share BC, one local organization that hopes to be in the running to operate the system. Ippel said Bike Share BC has partnered with Vancouver-based companies Kona bikes and Predator helmets and enlisted design firm Cause + Affect to create a made-in-Vancouver approach to bike share. What we have found is 80 per cent of bike share trips on a global basis are spontaneous. So the helmet solution needs to be responding to the consumer in that respect, said Ippel.

To that end, Bike Share BC has proposed to provide helmets at its central kiosks in all stations and include the cost of helmet rental in a flat fee. Ippel said helmets would undergo a double redundant cleaning process to ensure they are sanitized and appear new. Bike Share BC proposes an initial fleet of 800 to 1,000 bikes on city streets with stations closely spaced in the downtown core. Ippel said he needs further specification from the city as to the scope and size of the system before coming up with a budget estimate.

Also in the mix is U.S.-based B-Cycle which is one of two companies short-listed for New York Citys bike-share contract and already operates systems in Denver, Colo., Madison, Wis. and Chicago, Ill. among other U.S. locales. Company spokesperson Eric Bjorling says Vancouver is a perfect candidate for a public bike share system. Its a coastal city, its got a really strong bike culture, vibrant downtown, its a perfect location for B-Cycle, he said. Though B-Cycle hasnt dealt directly in cities with a helmet law, Bjorling said the company is up to the challenge.

If it comes to that well definitely try to work around that, weve got some partners in the helmet community that might be able to help us out, he said. B-Cycle partners with Trek Bicycles for its equipment and can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years to get a system up and running, depending on city speculations, Bjorling added.

Another local company throwing its hat in the ring is E-Track Green Transportation which has proposed an electrical bicycle solution for a public share system. Co-founder Mandy Bai said that with Vancouvers hilly topography, going electric will appeal to a broader range of riders and eliminate some of the concerns about how to store and supply helmets. We can provide a lot more functionality based on storage and ability to carry stuff, said Bai, adding helmets would be docked on board each vehicle. Bai said E-Track has been working on an electric bike share system since 2008 and hopes to eventually operate throughout Metro Vancouver. With vehicles manufactured in China, Bai said it would likely take the company between 10 and 18 months to get a bike share system in place.

Montreal-based Public Bicycle Sharing System, commonly known as Bixi, currently runs programs in Montreal ($78 per year for users) and Toronto ($95) and has submitted a Vancouver proposal but declined an interview request. U.S.-based Alta Bicycle Share has also expressed interest in running the Vancouver system, but a representative would not confirm the company submitted an official proposal.

City spokesperson Wendy Stewart said a report on the RFEOI process is scheduled to go before council prior to the August break. The city has also scheduled two public information sessions to solicit input on a public bike share on June 29 at Library Square (350 W. Georgia), 7am-2pm, and June 30 at Pendulum Gallery (885 W. Georgia), 11am-8pm.

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