City of Phoenix may launch bicycle-sharing program, issues request for proposal

The city of Phoenix is pursuing a plan to offer a bicycle-sharing program, hoping to mimic other major
cities’ successes. A request for proposal was issueed on Tuesday. (Alexis Macklin/DD)

The city of Phoenix Street Transportation Department issued a request for proposal (RFP) Tuesday for a potential bicycle-sharing program centered around the light rail.

The street transportation department is seeking “organizations interested in providing services for a highly successful and financially self-sustaining automated on-demand bicycle sharing system,” according to the city of Phoenix website.

The bicycle-sharing program would feature a “fleet of shared bicycles that may be rented from one bike-sharing station and returned to another in a network of stations,” according to the website. The program would provide Phoenix residents, employees and visitors with a transportation alternative to motor vehicles.

The concept of bicycle-sharing is to provide an efficient, healthy and eco-friendly transportation alternative to citizens in a city that is car-oriented and spread out.

“Bike share helps extend the reach of residents. It can extend the reach of the light rail for two to three miles with a bike trip,” said Jeff Stapleton, senior policy advisor to Mayor Greg Stanton. “Bike share is an overall philosophy to improve transit for the citizens of Phoenix.”

A rental bicycle can be used to replace a car for trips with brief distances, allowing riders to explore the city.

“It’s the most efficient form of transportation,” said Sean Sweat, an urban transportation advocate with a master’s of science and transportation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It gives people more transportation options. That’s one of the major failings of Phoenix.”

The proposal is the next step in securing a bike-share program in Phoenix, though it is still in the initial planning stages. The tentative plan is to have a vendor selected by June.

“This is one of the mayor’s initiatives. He’s a strong supporter of alternative modes of transportation,” said city of Phoenix Deputy Street Transportation Director Thomas Godbee. “Ultimately if we have good usage of it, it should help with our brown cloud.”

The bicycle-sharing program would be structured similarly to those in other large cities across the United States. Currently, Houston, San Antonio, San Francisco, Denver, Portland and Washington, D.C., all have bicycle shares in varying stages.

The program in Washington, D.C., dubbed Capital Bikeshare, is one of the most successful in the nation. The city has more than 1,500 bicycles available for rental all day, every day.

“It’s time for Phoenix to grow up, it’s one of the biggest cities in the country. It has to act like one,” Stapleton said.

Houston rolled out a bicycle-sharing program in May 2012. The program began with only three bicycle rental stations.

“The way we did it is not the way to do it. Three stations isn’t enough to judge (the use of) it,” said William Rub, the director of Houston B-Cycle. “Ours is 90 percent leisure use. The intent is daily use to supplement transportation, the first and last parts of a trip.”

Houston has a population of more than 2 million people, making it the fourth most populated city in the United States. The density of the city is one of the factors that lead to the implementation of the bike-share initiative.

“We have dense areas with apartment buildings. Density, point of destination and type of destination are things we consider when deciding where the bike stations will go,” Rub said.

Phoenix is currently the sixth largest city in the nation, but has a population of nearly 1.5 million people. City of Phoenix traffic engineer and bicycle coordinator Joseph Perez said other factors to consider include comparing where people live versus where they want to go, Perez said. He also cited the tourist point-of-view, which focuses on bicycle ridership by visitors such as hotel guests.

Density can be measured by the height of a city. Hotels, high-rise apartments and mixed-use buildings for commercial and living space are all indications of how densely populated a city is.

While supportive of the bicycle-sharing program, Sweat had some reservations.

“We have no density in Phoenix. A lot of people here don’t give density enough respect,” Sweat said. “If you have density without design, you have a (mess). And design without density is a waste of money. Neither means you have a sprawl.”

Sustained use of the system can provide more than just environmental and transportation benefits, improving an individual’s health through regular bicycling.

A bicycle ride can circumvent wasted time, as well as the need to make a trip to the gym. Other people choose to ride just for fun.

“I ride to work because I enjoy doing it. It’s fun, it saves money, and I don’t have to buy gas or pay a lot of money for car insurance,” Perez said. “I’ve biked every day since I worked for the city the last five years. I either bike or walk. It’s a rare occasion where I don’t.”

The city currently has four candidates for the bicycle-sharing program, all of which operate multiple bicycle shares throughout the United States. Alta Bicycle Share, B-Cycle, Bike Nation and Cycle Hop / Social Bikes are in consideration to supply the bicycles and rental stations. The target launch date for the program is December.

The purpose of the RFP is to select a contractor to design, build, operate, maintain and market the bicycle-sharing program, the city of Phoenix website said.

Organizations interested in submitting a response to the RFP should have expertise in purchasing, installing and operating a bicycle-sharing system.

To obtain a copy of the official RFP, email or contact the street transportation department at 602-256-3519.

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Clarification: Feb. 22, 2013

This article has been changed to clarify comments by city of Phoenix traffic engineer and bicycle coordinator Joseph Perez.