Columbia County is upping the ante on its status as a progressive community by installing a web-based, self-service bike rental unit at Evans Towne Center Park. The unit contains seven three-speed Trek bikes that are GPS enabled, allowing riders to monitor the distance of their trips for fitness purposes and county officials to know exactly where all their bikes are at all times.
If you go to the county’s bike rental website, columbiacounty.bcycle.com, you can even see how many bikes are still available to rent.
According to Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith, the $43,000 project was a favorite of Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who noticed similar units in Greenville and Savannah.
“He thought they would be a good new amenity for the park,” Smith says. “I think the chairman is always thinking of new things that will enhance our quality of life here.”
In larger metropolitan areas, the bike rental units are used in conjunction with public transportation to aid in commuting, while in Columbia County, the application is more for leisure purposes.
“A lot of folks are renting them and heading down toward the canal headgates,” Smith says. “And we are definitely working toward linking the library to Evans Towne Center Park via bike path and tying that in down Evans Towne Center Boulevard to Evans to Locks Road.”
According to Engineering Services Director Matt Schlachter, the road project is being funded by the TSPLOST. The design phase is currently underway, though the timeline will be contingent on CSX reviewing the plans and giving its approval for crossing over the railroad track.
The commission has already approved the design review fee from CSX.
B-cycle, the company that supplies the system, was named one of Fast Company’s Top 5 Most Innovative Companies in Transportation and provides bike rental services to 30 cities on two continents. But while things seem to be going well for them, not everyone in the industry is profiting.
In January, Public Bike System Company, which owned the BIXI bike sharing system used in major cities like Chicago, New York and Washington D.C., filed for bankruptcy, citing almost $50 million in debt.
Though Columbia County might be using the B-cycle system for recreational purposes instead of true ride sharing, Smith says the ultimate plan is to have several kiosks across the county, allowing users to ride to a location, check in the bike and then check one out again if a return trip is needed. Or a trip somewhere else.
Until then, however, the built-in lock will have to suffice, and the meter will continue to run.
The rate is $8 for two hours, with each additional half hour going for an extra dollar. That fee can be paid by credit card at the kiosk, or users can buy a year membership for $65 that allows a person to rent a bike for two hours a day every day.
Though the program has started out small and has only been promoted via the LED sign in front of the park and with notices on the website and in the water bill insert, the bikes have generated a lot of interest since they were unveiled in late March.
“Every weekend we have six or eight rentals,” Smith says. “For this early in the game, that’s pretty good. One weekend we had 15 rentals, but if it’s raining, of course, no one is going to rent them.”
If the idea really catches on, however, those rainy days won’t matter so much.
“Once we see the popularity and the usage, we’ll definitely be looking at putting them in other areas of the county,” Smith says.