Rental bikes will soon be rolling on the streets of Wichita again, after the COVID-19 pandemic bankrupted the previous operator of Bike Share ICT.
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a contract with a new operator for bike rentals, a company called Tandem Mobility.
That firm operates the KANcycle program that serves several cities in north-central Kansas, including Salina and Concordia, according to its website.
Wichita has been without a rent-a-bike service since May when the previous contractor, Zagster, declared bankruptcy and ceased operation.
Council member Becky Tuttle, who ran Bike Share ICT in her previous job at the Greater Wichita YMCA, said she was delighted by the system’s comeback.
“I have to say this is probably one of the happiest days I’ve had since May 4th of 2017 when we did our launch of Bike Share ICT,” Tuttle said. “It was very sad day back in, I think it was April, when I got a call from Director Tann in the evening saying that Zagster had gone bankrupt. But he made a commitment we would bring it back.”
Tandem Mobility will provide the city 200 rental bikes at a cost of $1,800 each per year.
The bikes are equipped with electronics to track rental charges and interact with a mobile app riders use to rent them.
The total cost of the program will be funded through a $360,000 sponsorship by Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Rental fees are expected to generate about $50,000, which is used to market the program.
The city’s new contract provides for Tandem mobility to handle all operations of Bike Share ICT, including providing and maintaining the bikes, stations, marketing, website and mobile app, according to a staff report presented to the council.
Bike Share ICT started in 2017 with sponsorship funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Wichita Community Foundation.
The program grew each year, from 8,028 rentals in 2017 to 15,191 in 2018 and 22,680 in 2019, said city Transit Director Mike Tann.
Bike rental is a “fantastic amenity” to provide recreational bikes for residents and visitors to Wichita’s downtown area, Tuttle said.
She said they’re also practical.
“For quite a while . . . the place people stopped the most where there wasn’t a station was in front of the Dillons (grocery store) at Douglas and Hillside, which leads us to believe that people were utilizing the system not only for recreation but for transportation, especially in the food desert area we have downtown.”
The system was started by the nonprofit Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita and run by the YMCA, but oversight of the program passed to the city government in April of last year.
“Since May, the City of Wichita has reviewed possible replacement arrangements to operate Bike Share ICT,” the staff report said. “Tandem Mobility has expressed its desire to restart Bike Share ICT in the previous form, agreed to purchase the assets, and indicated its ability to secure a reassignment from Zagster.”
Zagster was also one of two local operators renting electric scooters, along with VeoRide.
Following Zagster’s exit from the scooter market, another company, Bird, entered the market and competes with VeoRide.
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