City Studies Plan to Rent Bicycles
The City County Planning Department is going through the process to approve a study regarding the feasibility of a rental program for the short-term use of bikes and scooters in Billings. It’s a service or business available in many cities across the country, which is meant to extend transportation options.
The City of Billings’ MET Transit is considering implementing such a program according to Elyse Monat, Transportation Planner for the City/ County Planning Department.
The $45,000 study was done under the auspices of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) which for Yellowstone County and Billings is the Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC). The study requires approval of both governing bodies as well as the Montana Department of Transportation. All three agencies comprise the PCC board which must give final approval.
The MPO (PCC) hired Alta Planning + Design, a multi-state company with offices in many states including Oregon, Utah, Colorado and California. The goal of the Billings Area Bike and Scooter Study, is to determine how a bike and scooter “share program” would have to be established in order to be successful. The program is a service or business model in which bicycles or scooters are available for short-term use, usually 15 to 45 minute trips. Often operated under contract with the municipality, the service allows a user to check out a bicycle or scooter from locations around the city, ride to their destination and then leave the bicycle at some point for someone else to use.
The service is designed to be “a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly, convenient travel option for shorter trips” …which “could serve as an extension of transit and help Billings community members and visitors get around more easily without using a car.”
According to Monat, the survey of 245 Billings respondents 53 percent said they are interested in seeing such a program, 24 percent are not interest, and 14 percent wanted more information. Others sid they like the idea of “bike share” but not “scooter share.” Concerns sited included safety, lack of bicycle infrastructure, and vandalism.
Study recommendations to the City is that should they implement the program it should be a hybrid that would include both bikes and scooters. Hybrid means a bike can be retrieved at and returned to a station which consists of a series of bike racks, or anywhere within the designated service area; bikes are typically referred to as “smart bikes” due to the on-board technology hardware; user transactions can occur through hardware on the bike, web, and/or smartphone application; may include manual bikes or e-bikes.
The business model recommended by the study would be for the city to hire an experienced company that owns and operates a turnkey system, which means the service would be publically owned and privately operated.
The City would rent equiment and contract with the company for the full range of operations support, including installation, operations, sponsorship, customer service, and maintenance. The company takes on the risk of funding and operating the program in return for generated revenues.
Additional funding was identified as possible from sponsorships, grants, or operational funding.
Things recommended to the city in order to provide greater assurances for a successful program included: enable safe, convenient personal mobility such as sidewalks, separated bike lanes, crossing treatments, speed limit reductions, lighting, etc. should be focused around large employers and key services, such as health care and quality food outlets.
Funding for the Billings Area Bike and Scooter Study came in large part from the federal government, with the city and other organizations providing 13.42 percent in matching funds.
The study will be considered by the PCC at its March 18, 2021 meeting, at noon at the County Commissioners’ office in the Stillwater Building.