You soon can rent e-bikes again in Richmond, as city adds service and security
on November 17, 2023
Richmond is set to relaunch its electric bike share program after a two-year hiatus.
The project will be through a partnership between Richmond and Today, a company that focuses on urban mobility through cycling.
Residents can expect to see 130 e-bikes on the streets by Dec. 1, said David Touwsma, co-founder of Today. That number, he added, will increase to 300 by the spring.
“The uniqueness of this project lies in the fact that we provide something other than traditional bikes. The bikes we are providing are electric bikes that are also pedal-assist bikes,” Touwsma said. “And this broadens the audience we can provide this service to.”
Pedal-assist bikes enable riders to take longer rides without physical exhaustion. They help with hills and rough terrain, allowing for a smoother ride, thus reducing stress on joints, Touwsma said. They get people cycling who may not otherwise ride a traditional bike because of physical aches and pains, he added.
The e-bikes will initially be placed at 15 hubs across the city. Residents can access the bikes through a smartphone. It will cost $1 to unlock the bike and 25 cents per minute for a ride.
“The main goal of this project is to give people an alternative to single-vehicle use. This project will also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Lori Reese, project manager for Richmond Transportation Services.
Some residents, like Eddie Castro, are excited about the return of e-bikes.
“I used the bikes when they were in operation two years ago,” said Castro, a security guard in Richmond. “When they packed up, I was forced to buy my bike. I am happy that the bikes are returning soon.”
Marcus Mitchell says he can’t wait, either. “This bike share project will help us get around because gas is expensive. I mean, everybody out here makes money, but we do not have it,” said Mitchell, an electrician in Richmond.
The e-bike program was halted in 2021 after about 32 bikes were stolen and over 76 bikes were vandalized, Reese said.
“So we had to stop the program to unwind, rethink, and restart it,” Reese said. “We will do things differently, hoping it will be more successful than the first time we started.”
The new e-bikes will be equipped with GPS tracking, which monitors where the bikes are at every point, Touswma said. “It is embedded so deep that no one can remove it. We will also have security cameras in all the locations to prevent vandalism at the hubs.”
The $2 million funding for the project comes from the Environmental and Community Investment Agreement Competitive Grant Program, which is supported by Chevron.
Lauren Wetson, executive director of Acterra, a nonprofit environmental group, said the project has many benefits for the community.
“What is better than eliminating some car trips? Cleaner air!” Wetson wrote in an email. “Cycling is a critical transportation system that promotes economic growth, reduces inequalities, and is ultimately sustainable while helping to fight climate change.”
However, some residents, like Tamara Ashley, question whether the bikes will cause more harm than good. She said Richmond doesn’t have the infrastructure to support bicyclists and that adding more bikes may lead to more accidents.
Laura McCamy, a communications specialist at CalBike, an advocacy program that promotes safe and inclusive bicycling, said communities need adequate bike lanes for e-bike share programs to be most successful.
“Bicycles are perfect for multimodal trips. It makes it easier for residents to commute from one place to another, McCamy said. “However, this project will be most successful if bike lanes are on every street in every neighborhood in Richmond. Anywhere the vehicle travels, a bike lane should exist.”
Touwsma said Richmond is ready for an e-bike share program. “If you wait to build all the infrastructure, you will never launch a bike share program,” he said.
To enhance safety, the e-bike share will be part of a pilot program with Hello Llama. The Llama defender by Hello Llama monitoring technologies such as radar, computer vision and physical sensors on bicycles to safeguard cyclists and prevent collisions, said co-founder and CEO Bryan Ovalle.
“The Llama defender, which is also an AI software, is able to track multiple potential risks at the same time and responds in real-time to actual threats,” Ovalle said. “We like to say that when you ride with Llama, we’re always watching your back.”
(Top photo by Neenma Ebeledike)
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