Getting around in North Little Rock will get a lift when the city begins a partnership with a bicycle-sharing program scheduled to start in June.
At no cost to North Little Rock city government, the Charleston, S.C., mobility firm Gotcha plans to place 100 bikes at 12-15 hubs throughout the city that riders can unlock to rent using an app on their smartphones, said Isaac Henry, North Little Rock's Fit2Live director. The bikes can then be dropped off at any of the hubs to avoid an extra charge.
Gotcha was among six companies interviewed before being chosen, Henry said. The company already has a presence in Arkansas, operating the Mule Ride Bike Share at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. The name is a play off the university's mascot.
"We were looking to start at the end of May, but now we're looking at mid-June to launch the program, tentatively," Henry said last week. "We're getting all the sites ready.
"We have potential sites to use," for the dozen or so hubs, Henry said. "They sent their site planner down. We're getting all the sites ready."
City planners and city engineers are also assisting with identifying the best and most viable locations to place the bike hubs. Some could be on private property, which would require the property owner's permission, Henry said. Sites on city property could involve right-of-way issues, he said, that would require legislation to be approved by the North Little Rock City Council.
The company will have a one-year contract, with an option to expand, Henry said.
"We'll start with 100 bikes," he said. "For the size of our city, I think 100 bikes might be just enough."
North Little Rock doesn't have a financial obligation to the program, Henry said, because the company makes its money from the bike use and through business sponsors.
"They usually get their own sponsorship," with a local business partner, Henry said. "The program usually pays for itself."
Gotcha representatives met with North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce President John Owens about three weeks ago, said Robert Birch, special assistant to Mayor Joe Smith.
"John was very helpful in getting them some contacts in the business community," Birch said.
Birch, who also has been involved with starting the bike share program, will oversee the program when it gets underway. Henry, a captain in the Army National Guard, is being deployed to Afghanistan for nine months and is to return to his city job early next year. Friday was Henry's last day at his city position before his deployment.
Costs for riders haven't been nailed down, Henry said. Under a daily plan at SAU in Magnolia, bikes are rented free for the first two hours, then riders are charged $2 per hour after the first two hours, with a maximum of $24 per day, according to the company's website ridegotcha.com.
Gotcha's bikes also feature a pedal-assist, electric power boost that Henry said will help bike riders on hilly parts of the city.
"It helps out when you're going uphill and gives you a little boost," Henry said. "It's just a boost that goes off when you're riding."
The e-bikes "do not go any faster than a normal bike would go," Birch said.
Gotcha also has fleets of electric scooters, electric vehicles for ride-shares and three-wheeled electric trikes in addition to its bikes.
Neighboring Little Rock, at the beginning of this month, granted a 120-day extension to its contract with electric-scooter provider Lime, despite some safety concerns. Lime began a six-month pilot program in the capital city in January.
So far, North Little Rock hasn't entered any contract for electric scooter use within its city limits, but riders on Lime scooters do show up in North Little Rock.
When Lime set up eight scooters for rent at one spot in downtown North Little Rock in January, shortly after Little Rock's contract began, North Little Rock officials balked and ordered that the scooters be removed.
Gotcha has "sent a proposal over" to offer its scooters in North Little Rock, but that isn't being considered for the near future, Henry and Birch said.
Lime scooters also have been used on the city's River Trail, where all motorized vehicles are illegal, Smith said.
"It's not gotten to the point where they're a major problem on the trail yet, just a little problem," Smith said. "At some point, we'll start enforcing that.
"We've been lollygagging a little bit on scooters," Smith said. "I'm just worried about the safety of them. We'll let Little Rock be the test kitchen on those."
Metro on 05/13/2019
Print Headline: North Little Rock gears up bike-sharing partnership