West Hartford Discussing Pilot for Bike Sharing Program

LimeBikes are already being ridden to West Hartford, but the town is considering an official pilot program. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford is considering building on the success Hartford has had with LimeBike, and bringing the dock-less bicycle sharing program to town.

By Ronni Newton

LimeBikes have already been sighted throughout West Hartford, and town officials are considering making the town an official location for the bike sharing program, and deploying a fleet of the bright green bicycles at key locations around town.

While there are other bike sharing programs, because Hartford already has done the research and formed a relationship with LimeBike, it appears to be a natural synergy.

“Hartford chose LimeBike for a two-year pilot program,” Director of Leisure and Social Services Helen Rubino-Turco said Wednesday, and the program has exceeded all expectations with more than 20,000 rides logged in the first month.

LimeBike is a dock-less system, that operates through an app, and users of the bikes do not have to return them to any specific place. Bikes began appearing in West Hartford shortly after the Hartford program launched. “People started saying, ‘Are we going to get this?'” Rubino-Turco said.

Because Hartford chose LimeBike after careful study of the available options, Rubino-Turco said she decided to reach out to the company last week, and earlier this week she, Town Manager Matt Hart, Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission Chair Scott Franklin, and Mayor Shari Cantor met with Scott Mullen of LimeBike.

LimeBike already has a local presence, warehousing their bikes in space in the former Sousa Corp. location at 1045 New Britain Ave.

“We check all the boxes of infrastructure and policy that LimeBike, or a program like it, are looking for in a community,” Rubino-Turco said following discussions with Mullen about whether the town would be viable for the program. “Density, a complete streets policy, safe places to ride, an active network of cyclists – and we are also a community that has earned a designation as a bike-friendly community.” A certain level of population density and access to a transit network are also a factors in the viability of a program in a community.

West Hartford received a bronze award as a bicycle friendly community from the League of American Bicyclists four years ago, and was recently re-certified, Rubino-Turco said. Adding a bike-sharing program would dovetail with those efforts and the town’s support of sustainability and healthy lifestyles.

Franklin said that the Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission is behind the idea. “The Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission is pleased that the town is considering entering into an agreement with the LimeBike company and looks forward to having a bike share program in the town of West Hartford,” he said.

Rubino-Turco said that while the town still has many questions about LimeBike, what she has learned is that the bikes are all three-speed, crafted of aluminum, and equipped with GPS, lights, and a basket. The seats are adjustable to fit most riders.

Bikes can be rented by riders ages 18 and up. The bikes can be used by 16- and 17-year-olds, provided a parent or legal guardian assumes responsibility.

Before using a bike, a potential rider needs to download the app, create a profile, and add a credit card. When a user is ready to ride, the app will identify the location of the nearest bike.

If a bike remains stationary for 24 hours, LimeBike’s analytics will notify the company and their staff will retrieve it and return it to one of the hotspots – or “virtual docks” – that have been established in the community based on where the most need has been identified.

The cost of riding a LimeBike is $1 for every 30 minutes, Rubino-Turco said.

Hart told the Town Council’s Community Planning and Physical Services Committee at its Wednesday morning meeting that he has been impressed with how successful LimeBike has been in Hartford. They started off with 300 bikes, and just added 100 more.

Hart said he doesn’t think launching a pilot program would require a vote of the Town Council, and it’s not clearly a procurement because no money would be exchanged between the town and LimeBike or any other bike-sharing company.

“The next step is further discussing it internally to determine what is necessary,” Cantor said Wednesday. She said she doesn’t think there is a need to put the program out to bid since it’s not a financial contract.

Although the LimeBike user agreement requires riders to park the bikes in a place where they are not obstructing traffic, Cantor said that residents may be concerned that bikes would be left on lawns, or blocking a sidewalk. “We want to determine what the problems might be,” she said. The evidence from Hartford thus far, she said, is that LimeBike users have exhibited very responsible behavior, and she said the program looks promising.

During Wednesday morning’s committee meeting, Minority Leader Chris Barnes asked if there was concern about encouraging people to ride without helmets. Hart said that’s one of the issues that will be explored.

Town staff will continue to research bike-sharing and look at the logistics and whether or not any ordinance modifications would be required, and Hart said he would also like to have the Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission engaged in the discussions. Rubino-Turco noted that the town’s business districts will also be brought into the discussion.

“I hope this can become an alternate form of transportation that people can use,” Cantor said.

Cantor, Hart, and Rubino-Turco all noted that bike-sharing has great potential to be a regional effort, rather than just one or two towns. There are 17 communities in the Boston area that utilize LimeBike on a regional basis.

“Hartford and LimeBike have been pleasantly surprised by the response to the rollout of LimeBike in Hartford,” Rubino-Turco said.

The Community Planning and Physical Services Committee will discuss the issue at either its August or September meeting to determine whether or not they are comfortable with the program, Hart said.

If the town were to go forward with LimeBike, the company would look at our statistics to determine the appropriate deployment of bikes at key locations.

“I think it’s an exciting prospect,” Rubino-Turco said.

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