IOWA CITY — As an avid cyclist who bikes almost every day, Iowa City transportation services director Darian Nagle-Gamm knows a thing or two about the hills around town.
She also knows hills can be an obstacle for some people who turn to bikes as a commuting option. That’s one of the reasons Nagle-Gamm is excited about a fleet of electric-assist bicycles coming soon to the city.
“The first thing I did was take it straight up a hill,” she said of test-riding one of the electric-assist bikes. “I was pretty amazed at the ease at which you could pedal up hills. It really has the potential to be a pretty major game changer in terms of enabling bike use for a greater number of your trips around town.”
The Iowa City Council on Tuesday gave city staff the go-ahead to authorize an agreement with Gotcha Mobility LLC to bring a dockless electric-assist bike share to the city. The city will incur no costs aside from working with the vendor to launch the bike share and collaborating to designate parking areas for the bikes.
Nagle-Gamm said while the bikes have an electric motor, they do not have a throttle. Instead, the amount of power generated by the motor is proportional to how hard the rider is pedaling. The technology is useful in “flattening out” hills, she said.
“It’s a great equalizer, the electric-assist,” Nagle-Gamm said. “It makes for a more enjoyable riding experience.”
The bikes rely on a Gotcha Mobility’s smartphone application and GPS technology. Users pay $2 per ride to unlock the bikes and 10 cents per minute. Or users can buy a monthly pass at $9.99 or an annual pass for $79.99. The monthly and annual passes grant users a certain amount of ride time per day, and users will be charged per minute if they exceed that daily limit, Nagle-Gamm said.
A cash-only option will be available for people who don’t have a smartphone, Nagle-Gamm said.
GPS is used to track the bicycles and ensure they’re parked in designated areas, Nagle-Gamm said. Users will be notified through the smartphone app if the bike has been left outside the approved parking area. Users can be issued small fines, as well.
“Those are the ways we are hoping to encourage that orderly parking, which just makes for a more successful system,” Nagle-Gamm said.
Now that the City Council has authorized city staff to work with Gotcha Mobility, discussions will take place on where the parking areas will be designated, Nagle-Gamm said. For now, the city intends to start in the downtown and near-downtown areas, where demand is expected to be highest, she said. The goal is to expand outward into residential areas.
Parking areas for the bikes likely will be near existing bike racks, Nagle-Gamm said.
The city also will work with Gotcha Mobility to determine the appropriate number of bikes in the initial fleet.
“You don’t want to have too many bikes,” Nagle-Gamm said. “The city’s strategy is to start with a manageable number and scale up ... We’d rather not overwhelm the community.”
How the Cedar Rapids bike share program is progressing
Cedar Rapids launched an e-bike share in May. As of last month, the city’s 150 electric-assist bikes have provided 4,000 app users with 8,700 rides. A fleet of 30 electric scooters was added to the program last week.
Nagle-Gamm said electric-assist bikes are proving to be so popular that companies with bike share programs are beginning to phase out “regular” bicycles.
Gotcha Mobility will hire local staff to ensure the bikes are parked in designated areas, perform bike maintenance and ensure bikes are charged, Nagle-Gamm said.
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