ITHACA, NY (October 24, 2018) — LimeBike (now Lime) launched a bikeshare in Ithaca NY on April 23rd 2018 and, by the end of September, over 75,000 trips by bike have been taken. Here’s a summary of the behind-the-scenes activity that brought Lime to Ithaca.
Bike Walk Tompkins awarded NYSERDA grant to double bicycling in Ithaca
Bike Walk Tompkins applied for a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant in October 2016. In March 2017, NYSERDA awarded a $218,757 grant to Bike Walk Tompkins to develop a Blueprint for Better Bicycling and to research and facilitate a smart bikeshare coming to Ithaca. The overall target of the grant is to double the bicycling transportation mode share in Ithaca, NY within two years of the end of the grant period by reducing the barriers to bicycling in Ithaca. One of the main barriers that were identified is not having access to a bicycle, which is an issue that bikeshare could address.
Six months of in-depth bikeshare research
In the fall of 2017, Bike Walk Tompkins (BWT) staff attended the North American Bike Share Association conference in Montreal to learn the most current information about bikeshare, to develop contacts with bikeshare companies, and to learn best practices from other cities that already had bikeshare. BWT staff continued to extensively research bikeshare options throughout the fall and winter, and developed a Request for Information (RFI) with a working group that included City of Ithaca and Cornell University staff. The bikeshare RFI was circulated to potential bikeshare providers in December 2017.
Though a bikeshare system has long been desired by the community, earlier attempts to bring bikeshare to Ithaca had been stalled because the systems available at the time required significant ongoing ($80,000+/year) local funding to support them, and they provided only a limited number of bikes at a limited number of sites. At the closing of the RFI, however, 5 of the 9 companies responded offering bikeshare systems at no cost to local municipalities and partners, all of which were dockless. The five companies quickly rose to the top of the selection process. The advantages were clear: no ongoing local cost; better organic distribution of bikes for more equitable and widespread use; and better, lighter, and more comfortable bikes.
Ithaca’s RFI process, as administered by Bike Walk Tompkins, has been cited in multiple national forums as a best practice for bikeshare provider selection. We prioritized local benefit, and included several measures addressing equity and a strong ongoing relationship with host communities. The bikeshare working group narrowed the five dockless bikeshare providers to two top contenders by February 2018. Reference checks with municipalities across the country to understand how the two companies actually operated in their areas provided further insight into the best fit for Ithaca.
All of Common Council and other community leaders were invited to preview sample bikes from each of the two contenders in an open house format in mid-February at Bike Walk Tompkins’ office. Finally, after this extensive research process, Bike Walk Tompkins recommended to both the City and to Cornell University that LimeBike was the best current fit for our community. Once that recommendation was made, the City chose to formalize the relationship with LimeBike with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Mayor Svante Myrick after consultation with Dan Cogan, Chief of Staff, as well as legal and engineering staff.
Things change fast
The shared individual transportation industry moves fast. Even the term “shared individual transportation” is new. When Bike Walk Tompkins was developing the RFI last fall, there was little talk of e-bikes, and e-scooters were barely on the horizon. One of the questions in the RFI asked about e-bikes, even though none of the respondents had any e-bikes in public use at that time. Bike Walk Tompkins believed then, as we do now, that e-bikes have a clear and useful role as transportation in our community. With e-scooters newly becoming an option, we are optimistic they may be equally useful. More importantly, we believe that a diligent and similar research-based approach will help determine if and how e-scooters fit into the transportation mix in our community.
How about the $20,000?
As Bike Walk Tompkins worked with Lime toward launch in the spring, Lime offered to contribute up to $20,000 toward bike infrastructure costs in our community. Bike parking was already and continues to be a clear need that could be addressed directly with this amount of money. There was also a short timeline to use the offer. In consultation with the bikeshare working group, we proceeded to purchase eight Dero bike parking corral setups — which are to be installed in areas with over-capacity bike parking — and three commuter bike lockers. Lime reimbursed Bike Walk Tompkins $17,861.36, the exact amount of the purchase. Bike Walk Tompkins and the City of Ithaca continue to assess appropriate locations to install additional bike parking and to run a commuter bike locker trial.
BWT’s current relationship with Lime
Other than their presence as Ithaca’s current local bikeshare provider, Bike Walk Tompkins has no particular allegiance or relationship with Lime. That being said, Bike Walk Tompkins has so far been impressed with Lime’s integrity and willingness to operate in a way that supports our community goals. They have shown good business practices from their initial RFI to their current operations. Lime provides a discounted Access program for low-income individuals, maintains positive relationships with municipalities and is willing to serve even small regional communities such as Trumansburg, Dryden, and Watkins Glen.
Along with City of Ithaca and Cornell University staff, Bike Walk Tompkins staff serve on a bikeshare oversight committee that monitors the activities of the bikeshare company and requires the company to attend to any concerns brought forth. At this point in time, we have every reason to believe a good working relationship will continue as it has from the beginning. If not, as the MOU with the City clearly maps out, the relationship can be altered or ended as needed. That being said, with 75,000 bike rides already taken in less than half a year, the service has shown itself to be very useful to our community and Bike Walk Tompkins will do what we can to ensure we have a bikeshare in Ithaca for many years to come.