Valley bike-share push gathers steam

By RICK KELLEY

WESLACO — A Valley-wide bike share program that won’t cost any public dollars continues to ride ahead.

Ron Garza, executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, said this week he visited Austin to evaluate that city’s bike-share plan and how it is evolving.

“They have B-Cycle, which is what McAllen has,” he said. “But they just approved two other dockless vendors, one of which is Ofo, and something called Pace. So they’re moving into this dockless area, also.”

Unlike B-Cyle, or the Zagster system in Harlingen, dockless systems have no designated area for the bikes to be returned. In effect, the bikes are monitored via satellite but are just left in a public area when a rider hops off.

A Valley-wide dockless system will mean an intrepid rider could pedal from Edinburg to McAllen and even on to Brownsville and leave the bike there.

“The trail from San Juan is about to get completed where it’s going from San Juan to Pharr connecting through McAllen to Edinburg,” Garza said. “So if you have a system … if you’re going one way, you can leave one of those dockless bikes there, bring the bus back, hop a ride back, whatever.”

Dockless bike systems make money when users who have registered a credit card swipe their phone and unlock a bike to make it rideable. The rates vary, but generally they run about a dollar per hour.

The fact cities don’t have to provide funding for these ride-share systems is, understandably, one of the reasons they are becoming so popular. Harlingen, for example, is paying $17,000 a year for its Zagster system, although funding for two years was obtained through a public health grant.

Garza said early adoption of dockless ride-share systems has had something of the Wild West about it, at least in its infancy. He said the Valley hopes to sidestep some of the issues which have arisen elsewhere.

“What Dallas did is they opened their doors to have thousands of bikes but put no regulation behind it,” Garza said. “We’re being a little bit hypersensitive to the regulations. Yes, there are still probably going to be a couple of incidents, or issues out there, but it’s an education thing, a rider education thing.”

Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen and Edinburg have bike-share programs, but Garza thinks it would be best to have just one Valley-wide vendor instead of two, three or even a half-dozen. A single vendor, he believes, will improve accountability.

The LRGVDC has issued a request for proposal from bike-share vendors seeking to bring their programs to the region.

“This RFP we speak of, it’s actually a zero-dollar RFP,” he said. “The cities aren’t paying for it, it’s the vendor that assumes all cost.

“We just want somebody that … can be accountable,” he added. “I think what’s cool, too, is that it’s been around now for enough time in the states, that the better ones are starting to surface and really identify themselves.”

Garza has said previously he hopes to have a Valley-wide agreement in place later this summer so when current contracts expire — Harlingen’s Zagster contract is up for renewal in August — a new bike-share vendor will be ready to roll.

rkelley@valeystar.com