Zagster money to go toward Riverside Rides

Fort Smith moves money to keep similar program going

Riverside Rides bike share program is seen Wednesday, July 21, 2021, on Riverfront Drive just north of Riverfront Skate & Bike Park in Fort Smith.
Riverside Rides bike share program is seen Wednesday, July 21, 2021, on Riverfront Drive just north of Riverfront Skate & Bike Park in Fort Smith.

FORT SMITH -- Money originally designated for a bike-share plan now will go to a similar program in hopes that it is sufficient to keep the program running, one of its operators said.

Riverside Rides, operated through the 501c3 Future Launch, will receive $1,300 monthly for a year starting in August. The money originally was planned to support a riverfront bike-share program through for-profit group Zagster, which halted its Fort Smith efforts in 2020 because of covid-19.

It's almost all of the estimated monthly $1,500 needed to pay the Future School students who run the Riverside Rides, said Griffin Hanna of KMW Properties. Hanna and Phil White, an area developer, are using Riverside Rides to teach a business class at the public charter school in Fort Smith.

White said he hopes it will keep Riverside Rides afloat until it can sustain itself through revenue from bike rentals. He said people who he declined to name have put money into the Future Launch account to pay the students.

Located in two former storage units just north of Riverfront Skate & Bike Park, Riverside Rides cost roughly $50,000 to start up, Hanna said. Startup costs included buying and fabricating the storage containers that house the operation, adding solar panels, retrofitting the interior, adding bike racks, purchasing an Apple iPad and paying muralists for decoration, he said.

The 20 bicycles, which were donated to the program, rent for $8 for the first 30 minutes of use and $12 per hour, White said.

The class uses the ride-share service as its practical arm and began in the spring of 2020. It started renting bikes that summer, said Future School Superintendent Boyd Logan.

The program would have shared the riverfront with Zagster's ride service had the company not folded in 2020.

The city board Tuesday approved giving the monthly sum to Riverside Rides.

White said covid-19 and the hot weather have affected bike rentals and has kept the program from being as successful as he would like. Logan said implementing the program "got a little tricky" while the state didn't allow school-sponsored activities in 2020.

White added that the class needs to do a better job of marketing Riverside Rides to the public. The class doesn't have a marketing budget.

Hanna said he and White have rearranged the expenses so they don't need as much money as they did in 2020.

While Logan said "it's OK" if Riverside Rides doesn't make a profit, he acknowledged that White and Hanna want it to succeed.

"They want those kids to really shoot for having a sustainable business, so that's the goal," Logan said.

After the board's decision, City Director Neal Martin spoke well of how Riverside Rides teaches the students entrepreneurial skills. Martin asked if there are other opportunities in Fort Smith to teach students similar lessons.

"It's not necessarily the business itself, the bike rental place, but it's getting them those skills that they can then translate somewhere in the future," Martin said.

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A bike share program employs a station where users may rent a bicycle for a small fee.