By Seth Daniel
First it was rock climbing and trampolines.
Next it was breweries and distilleries.
Now it could be the latest in bike-sharing technology, as Mayor Carlo DeMaria and City officials have begun conversations this week with the Cambridge-based Zagster bike sharing company for potential locations in Everett.
Bike sharing is a program for point-to-point trips providing users with bicycles for rental at any self-serve bike-station. It allows users to return bikes to any other station located within the system’s service area. Rentals of the bikes are typically done with apps on a phone or via a credit card.
Mayor DeMaria said that getting some sort of bike-sharing technology into Everett was something he felt fit with the transit reform that is ongoing with the MBTA and also the health and wellness initiatives. Having a bike-sharing company contracted with the City would bring an amenity to Everett that isn’t typically offered in the smaller cities outside of a big City.
“One of my top priorities is the health and wellness of our residents and providing more flexible and affordable commuter options,” he said. “By bringing in bike infrastructure and app-based technology, our residents will not only have a healthier and faster commute, but they can also take advantage of the beautiful Northern Strand Community Trail for recreation. Even those who do not and cannot afford a bicycle can take advantage of the trail.”
Zagster said they are excited to potentially work with Everett.
“We are excited to potentially work with the City of Everett in doing a bike-sharing program,” said David Reed of Zagster.
If the conversations developed into a business relationship, Everett would likely launch one station in Everett Square with five bikes as a pilot program next year. That would lead, likely, to an expansion of the network throughout the city in public-private partnerships where interested businesses could help sponsor new stations.
Everett Transportation Director Jay Monty said the City sees the potential program as a part of the City’s transit system and the program would help Everett to make transit connections in an east/west direction.
“I think the City, and particularly the mayor, has expressed an interest in bringing bike-sharing to Everett,” he said. “I think we see it as a way in particular to improve on connections to the transit system – getting to Wellington, Malden Center and the new Chelsea Silver Line when it opens. In Boston, they see it as an extension of their transit system and we see the same value here. In Everett, we have pretty good bus routes in a north/south direction, but we really lack the east/west connections. This would help us get those connections. It would also really help us leverage the usage of the Northern Strand Bike Path.”
Already, the Wynn Boston Harbor casino has promised in its licensing agreements to have a bike-sharing station on site for employees and customers who would want to use it. By all indications, they would likely tie into the same service as Everett. Other private businesses are also interested in adding stations as well, and the City is working with them now to see what will there might be in building out any potential bike-sharing system using public-private partnerships.
“Right now, we’re putting the feelers out to see the response from the community and the interest in creating public-private partnerships and we’ll be sending people out from the City to reach out to businesses whole employees might see a value in having a station,” Monty said.
If the pilot goes forward next year in Everett Square, Monty said they would gauge the usage and likely expand outward in phases based on those partnerships and also heavily trafficked areas.
Jon Terbush of Zagster said the company began as a consulting firm for bike-sharing companies, but has now grown into being one of the premiere operators on college campuses and smaller cities. Unlike the larger companies, such as Hubway in Boston, he describes Zagster as a more “nimble” company that doesn’t require the huge investment and guaranteed population density.
“Now we plan, build and operate bike sharing programs,” he said. “We have 140 programs in more than 30 states. We just opened our first international program at Windsor University in Canada.
“The big difference between us and companies like Hubway in Boston is that they are third generation bike sharing technology,” he continued. “The are kiosk based bike technology so the technology and locking mechanism is on the kiosk and not on the bike. We have a fourth generation bike-sharing program where the technology and locking mechanisms are on the bike. We are nimble and able to serve smaller communities like Everett.”
Another advantage, he said, over the larger companies like Hubway in Boston is that Zagster allows one to lock up the bike when they want to stop.
“One of the benefits is the riders can take the lock with them,” he said. “They can take it and lock up the bike and go for coffee or run an errand. At Hubway, you have to return the bike to the kiosk, run your errand, and then take out another bike when you want to leave. Hopefully, the errand or coffee shop is near the station. You go where you want to go, lock up and then just return it to a station when you want to. They can ride on their own terms.”
He said that in addition to being the top bike-sharing company on college campuses, having a contract with half of the Ivy League schools, they do well in serving smaller communities like Everett.
He said one city, Carmel, Indiana, outside of Indianapolis was a good example. The larger ‘Pacer’ company located in Indianapolis was too big to go into a small city. However, Zagster was able to go in and it has been a great fit.
“It sounds like Everett is something very similar to that situation,” he said. “It’s something we’ve done before with great success.”
A major piece of the puzzle for Everett is connecting its potential bike-sharing network to those of Malden and Chelsea. Already, Malden is also engaging in conversations with Zagster, Terbush said.
Mayor DeMaria said if it is decided that a bike-sharing program is feasible, the City would then issue a request for proposals to solicit bids for a service.