A clearer financial picture of Richmond’s bike share program is coming to light as the nearly 18-month-old endeavor enters its second phase.
RVA Bike Share has generated just over $83,000 in revenue since launching in August 2017, as of November, according to numbers provided this week by the city. Those numbers were not made available for a BizSense report on the program last week.
User fees and memberships accounted for $59,800 in revenue, while dock station sponsorships added $11,200 and advertisements on station kiosk panels contributed $12,000. That’s according to a breakdown provided by the city public works department, which includes the program.
The revenue total covers about one-fifth of the $393,000 it costs to operate and maintain the program annually. But that cost – paid monthly to Canada-based vendor Bewegen – is covered using funds from a $1.06 million grant the city was awarded in 2014 by the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program.
The city used that grant, along with $280,000 in capital improvement funding, to launch the program in 2017. The grant amount provides enough funding to cover the program for about 2½ years, meaning the program, which is nearing the 18-month mark, has about another year before it would need another revenue source.
Until then, the program is not costing the city beyond its initial $280,000 capital improvement investment. In a presentation Tuesday, Jakob Helmboldt, who oversees the program as the city’s pedestrian, bicycle and trails coordinator, told City Council’s Land Use, Housing and Transportation Standing Committee that, as of now, the program does not affect the city’s general fund.
Helmboldt said the grant funds would continue to cover the program as it enters its second phase – a planned expansion that will double its size and scope with an additional 220 bikes and 20 dock stations, bringing the overall fleet and footprint to 440 bikes and 40 stations.
Bikes to change
That phase is projected to cost $1.5 million, which Helmboldt said would be fully funded through the federal CMAQ program. The phase includes converting the entire 440-bike fleet to PedElec electric-assist models and connecting the 40 stations to a power grid for bike recharging.
New stations would be located as far as Carytown, Byrd Park, the Boulevard/Museum District and Manchester, expanding the program’s reach from its current, primarily downtown footprint.
In his presentation Tuesday, which he said was requested by council, Helmboldt said the conversion to electric-assist bikes, designed to help riders with uphill climbs, was planned from the outset.
“That adds value to the system, makes it more attractive, more usable, especially in our hillier areas on hot days,” Helmboldt said. “It increases the range that users can actually use the system for.”
With the upgraded bikes and additional stations, Helmboldt said revenues from user fees, memberships, advertising and sponsorships are anticipated to increase by about $100,000 in the next year, potentially offsetting a portion of the program’s operations and maintenance costs.
The bikes will be rolled out, 10 to 20 at a time, as stations are powered, Helmboldt said. The first bikes are expected to start hitting the street next month, and all existing bikes are to be converted to electric-assist by May. The full expansion is expected to be complete in late summer.
Helmboldt said operations and maintenance costs for the fully implemented system are to be negotiated with Bewegen, which he said agreed to a revenue-sharing approach in which any excess money would be split between the vendor and the city, while any shortfall would be absorbed by the company. He said the arrangement is contingent on the city completing the PedElec conversion.
Council member Kim Gray, who has questioned the locations of stations in the program’s first phase, asked Helmboldt if new stations would be placed in coordination with the Pulse, the bus rapid transit system that GRTC rolled out last year. Gray also asked if stations would be located closer to each other.
“What I’m hearing from folks is they want to utilize the service, but they’re so spread out, where they can dock, that it doesn’t save time,” Gray said.
Helmboldt said the expansion not only would enlarge the system’s footprint but also fill in service gaps, with the goal of having a station a quarter-mile from another. He also said the bike share is designed to work with the Pulse, with five existing stations located on the corridor.
“The intent was to have them work in tandem,” he said. “The idea is to integrate with transit, and in particular with the Pulse, so that it provides good access to the Pulse.”
Responding to questions from council member Michael Jones, Helmboldt said six bikes have been lost, adding that he didn’t know that any of those bikes were taken by someone other than an authorized user. He said Bewegen has been retrofitting bikes with a new, stronger locking mechanism made of steel, as well as making minor modifications to docks to further prevent thefts.
“Luckily we’ve not had an excessive number of problems, so we anticipate that that will be reduced even further,” he said.
Helmboldt’s presentation came days before council is scheduled to receive proposed amendments to city code to allow dockless electric bikes and scooters to be operated legally in city right-of-way.
The new rules, proposed by Mayor Levar Stoney, were scheduled to go before council this month but were continued to allow for adjustments to a fee schedule, which would charge operators $20,000 to permit up to 100 dockless vehicles, $30,000 to permit between 101 and 200 vehicles, and $45,000 for 201 to 500 vehicles.
Council is set to receive the proposals at its meeting next Monday, Jan. 28.