Small town launches its own bike share

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From idea to bikes on the street in six months!

Bike share ridership has been on the rise over the last few years. For those who don’t know, this is when a community has a fleet of bikes that are available for short term rental. They’re typically positioned at unattended stations throughout a city and are used either for recreation or to get from here to there.

Recently, I encountered a bike share in a town of 3,500 people in eastern Ontario. Never have I ever heard of a small town bike share until learning of this one in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, along the Trent-Severn Waterway. (If you know of any bike shares in communities of similar size, please share in the comments.)

So, here’s the (abbreviated) story of Bobcaygeon’s 10-bike share program. (Disclosure: I’m proud to have played a very small role in this.) At the request of Kawarthas Northumberland, a regional tourism organization in Ontario, I co-hosted a workshop on trail tourism last fall. The purpose was to position communities along the 386-kilometer Trent-Severn Waterway to better serve visitors by providing needed services and cultivating a culture that embraces trails and recreation.

During the workshop, an idea sparked for Carly Poole, a founding member of Impact 32, a volunteer group focused on economic growth in town. She began to wonder if they could station bikes near Lock 32 along the waterway. Then and there, she texted her contact at Parks Canada to see if they would be willing to grant a license to operate on their land. By the end of the workshop, when Kawarthas Northumberland announced a challenge grant to incentivize connectivity to the waterway, Impact 32 had a prospective funding source. They went on to apply for the grant, received it, and combined the funds with another source.

Impact 32 spent $22,000 in Canadian dollars to launch a two-station program with five branded bikes at each location. They’ve reported 160 summer rentals – not too shabby at all for a pilot season in a small town! While the purpose of the program was to help draw boaters and other waterway visitors into town by bike, local and regional residents also gravitated to the cycles. And why wouldn’t they? They’re completely adorable!

The bikes can be rented independently, but Impact 32 chose to set up a welcome center that was open throughout the season. Volunteers greeted visitors in hopes of ensuring a positive experience in what became a record-setting year along the Trent-Severn Waterway. (Parks Canada offered free lockage throughout the 2017 season as part of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebration.)

I love the way that the volunteers of Impact 32 recognized an opportunity to help draw visitors into their community in a fun and functional way, creating a bike share program suitable to their community. They went from one simple idea in November 2016 to having the bikes on the streets by May 2017. I can hardly imagine another bike share has ever launched so quickly.

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