Company hopes to open bike-sharing system in Grand Forks, East Grand Forks this summer
A private company operating bike-share systems nationwide says it hopes to open a network in Grand Forks by July.
On Monday, Grand Forks City Council members preliminary agreed to give the Boston-based company Zagster a $12,000 sponsorship for start-up costs this year. Zagster is requesting a total $32,000 from the city for the next three years.
Sales Director Dave Reed said the company has approached more than 10 local organizations for sponsorships. He estimates the system will cost a total of $110,000 to $135,000 per year for 12 to 15 bike stations in both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, holding 50 to 70 bikes.
“Ultimately, we’re going to need a lot of different organizations involved to make this successful,” Reed said.
The effort to bring bike sharing to Grand Forks precedes Zagster’s time by about three years, according to Pete Haga, Grand Forks community and government relations officer. The movement has involved local stakeholders like Altru Health Systems, UND, Grand Forks Public Health and the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
Last May, the Grand Forks City Council passed several policies to create a better environment for bike sharing, where bikes aren’t left in random places away from their docks and the correct people are held accountable for misusing bikes.
Ultimately, council members agreed a system would work best if managed by a private company.
For Council President Dana Sande, having a bike-share system is in economic development decision that puts Grand Forks on the level of several cities around the world.
“I travel extensively for work,” he said. “Pretty much everywhere else I go, every city that I go to has a bike-share system, and people use the bikes and they love them. Perhaps there’s some pushback about the city throwing in a little bit of taxpayer money. I’m happy to eat my words if the community comes out and doesn’t like it two years from now.”
Should the Grand Forks City Council officially approve Zagster’s request next Monday, May 20, Haga said the city will pay for the sponsorship through a budget amendment to the city’s Street and Infrastructure fund, a collection of mostly sales and gas tax dollars.
Another organization Zagster has approached for sponsorship is the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, an agency funded almost completely by visitors to Grand Forks and East Grand Forks through a hotel and lodging tax. Director Julie Rygg said the group’s board will consider giving Zagster a total $10,000 over the next two years.
“We talk, of course, about the Greenway and the opportunities for recreation on the Greenway,” said Rygg. “A lot of time we have visitors traveling through and they want to use the Greenway but they don’t have a bike with them. It just gives another recreational opportunity, for not only our local residents but our visitors.”
East Grand Forks City Administrator David Murphy said the East Grand Forks City Council will consider the matter at a work session in a couple of weeks. According to him, a couple of bike stations in East Grand Forks will provide additional access to the Minnesota city's recreation opportunities, like a campground near downtown.
“When people drive their motor homes and those types of things, they don’t necessarily always have another vehicle with them,” Murphy said. “So this would provide them another opportunity to venture a little bit farther, that kind of thing.”
UND’s student government also has been approached about a sponsorship. According to former Student Body President Erik Hanson, the school’s involvement was contingent on a few things.
“We wanted discounted rides for students and we also wanted a large number of stations on campus,” he said.
Zagster is proposing discounted rates for students. In the company’s proposal, a Grand Forks bike-share system will charge $1 per 15-minute trips, Haga said. Users will have the option of buying a $10 pass for one month of unlimited 30 minute trips, or they could purchase a $60 pass for a year of unlimited 30 minute rides.
Users will have to download a cellphone app and create a profile linked to a credit card. To unlock a bike from its docking station, users will have to scan the bike with their smart phone.
Haga said Zagster’s system will allow users to pause mid-trip.
According to Reed, Zagster is working with the city on alternative options for users who might not have a smartphone. They will still need a credit card and some kind of phone with texting.