Urbana council feels similarly to Champaign on bike-sharing program

Urbana council feels similarly to Champaign on bike-sharing program

URBANA — Aldermen spent less time than their counterparts in Champaign discussing the renewal of an intergovernmental agreement for the dockless-bike-share program, but they seemed just as favorable to limiting increases in the number of bikes available and the number of companies allowed to operate.

Less than a year ago, turquoise bikes from current operator VeoRide started popping all over campus and in far-flung areas of the twin cities. Ben Thomas, general manager of the company's Champaign-Urbana fleet of 500 bikes, said this market is already one of the busiest for the company. He cited 165,000 rides taken in six months, 14,800 unique users and 300 subscribers as proof that the service has already grown significantly.

Champaign last month signaled that it was willing to increase the number of bikes a "reasonable amount" to 700, and will weigh the pros and cons of keeping VeoRide as the sole provider. On Monday, Urbana aldermen also advocated for a "modest increase" up to 750 bikes, with Alderman Eric Jakobsson saying he was happy keeping VeoRide as the sole provider for some time.

"I don't feel an urgent need to open it up to more companies at this time," Jakobsson said. "If this company is being a good partner, and they brought the whole service to us, then maybe it would be appropriate to keep the one company we have now. I guess the other side of that is that people would like some competition. But right now, I would say why don't we just keep VeoRide?"

As aldermen discussed how many more bikes should be allowed, city planner Lily Wilcock cautioned against having a cap, saying though Urbana has "the opportunity to regulate dockless bikes, we should keep in consideration that we don't have a cap for cars on streets. And we know this is something that is reducing congestion."

She added that any new company that would be allowed in would have the same cap of 500 bikes, with a city-defined performance-based system in place to determine future increases.

Still, some aldermen advocated for modest changes to the existing plan with VeoRide. On the question of raising the $600 fee for new applicants wanting to bring dockless bikes to the community, Alderman Bill Brown said he was open to a small increase since VeoRide is "definitely a community benefit."

"It seems like everything we do would have to be moderate, so we don't drive people away if we talked about having higher fees," Brown said. "It will likely drive companies away."

Alderwoman Maryalice Wu said there's nothing in the current agreement that "asks the company to report the complaints or number of times that it is called to remove a bike," and she'd like to see that in the new agreement.

"I think this way, people would be more willing to contact the company rather than the city," Wu said. "I think it would also help see what the community is doing with these bikes."

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