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VOL. 11 | NO. 27 | Saturday, July 7, 2018

Already Exceeding Expectations: Explore Bike Share on a Roll

By TONI LEPESKA

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As an afternoon sun slides toward the horizon, Rajah Brown and Jon Pegg pull up in a 17-foot U-Haul truck, jump out and head for the row of 14 shiny bicycles along South Main Street.

Explore Bike Share operations director Rajah Brown, left, and bike fleet manager Jon Pegg work on repairing some bicycles at one of the bike share stations on South Main Street. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

Sweat dampens their brows, but Memphis nightlife is a couple hours from heating up. There’s time to take a few bicycles over to the empty station at Loflin Yard after some onsite upkeep.

Their technology reveals they need to move six bikes by the bar and restaurant that features relaxed outdoor seating. It’s a 1.2-mile trip. They’ve got to “rebalance the system.”

“We try to predict trends,” said Pegg, Explore Bike Share’s fleet manager. “Like concerts at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park, or events at AutoZone Park. Every little bit of information helps.”

Explore Bike Share, a nonprofit organization, recently released its first month of statistics since rolling out the 60-station, 600-bicycle transportation system. Nearly 3,000 residents and visitors had taken 6,423 rides. The estimated carbon offset, or reduction in carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions, totaled 26,078 pounds.

To access bicycles, users sign up with a credit or debit card on the Bike Share app, at a station kiosk, at www.explorebikeshare.com, or arrange cash payment – $5 for a 60-minute ride. Using the app or a user-identification number, riders unlock the bikes and hop on, redocking bicycles at destinations stations. Riders also may pay $15 for monthly use or $120 for annual use.

Officials said the system exceeded expectations the first month. They hope Memphis is on a pathway to improve health and community connectivity through affordable transportation.

A six-person team keeps the bicycles in working order and makes sure bikes are available where and when people want them. That’s a work in progress – officials continue to evaluate data to predict trends and efficiently provide the bikes. Plans call for the purchase of a vehicle, but until then, Bike Share will use U-Haul trucks to redistribute bicycles and provide on-site maintenance.

With a vise grip in a gloved hand, Brown, director of operations at Explore Bike Share, helped Pegg at the South Main and Talbot Avenue station. As the pair worked, a trolley glided past the site, located a few footsteps from the door of the award-winning architectural firm, archimania.

“The team, this is what they do all day,” said Brown, turning a screw that secured the cover of a bike’s solar-powered battery. “Just like any other bike, tires go flat, etcetera. We try to handle it in-field.”

On this particular day, four batteries needed replacing at the station. They fuel systems that feed GPS and other information to Bike Share. Biggs estimated each battery will last six to 10 days.

“In the past month, we’ve had a lot of sunny days,” he said. “That’s helped a lot.”

The team also wipes down the bicycles. If they need any parts, they’re wheeled into a U-Haul and strapped to the side with bungie cords for a trip to the maintenance shop.

For efficiency, stations are contained in seven zones with technicians responsible for multiple-zones in a day. Each station probably gets visited every other day, if not each day.

The first month’s stats revealed Overton Park was the most popular station with the east Big River Crossing station following closely behind. Both racked up about 400 trips each.

The following week put Bike Share over the 8,000-trip mark with the east Big River Crossing station in the top slot of 10 most popular stations. Overton Park was second.

One recent afternoon, the Overton Park site was bare of bikes except for one lonely-looking one. At the time, all seven docks at a Cooper-Young station were filled. Depending on anticipated user statistics, it’s that kind of event that triggers Bike Share’s movement of bikes by the maintenance team.

“Rebalancing is a critical part of the program – such a small use of fuel yields tens of thousands of miles covered by bikes by Memphians and visitors,” said Cara Greenstein, a spokeswoman for Explore Bike Share. “EBS is committed to congestion mitigation and air quality improvement and, therefore, is always working toward innovative solutions to manage their growing.”

In the months to come, officials will be expanding the bike-sharing system by 300 bicycles and 30 stations. A $2.2 million congestion mitigation and air-quality grant from the Department of Transportation is making that possible.

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