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Transport / Mass transit

The US’s first privately-funded city bikeshare system just launched in Cleveland

Until now, most bikeshare schemes have been publicly subsidised. No matter how profitable the scheme may be in the end, start-up costs are pretty hefty: you need thousands of bikes, docking station technology, and, potentially, land to store and rent bikes from. 

In Cleveland, as in many other mid-size US cities, the authorities have been looking into launching their own scheme. But this month, the city was scooped – by a group of investors who have launched a totally private-funded bikeshare system in the city.

Zagster, the company spearheading the project, made its name by launching bikeshare schemes in hotels, resorts and on campuses, only to realise that these small-scale, private schemes could work well in smaller cities.

The scheme in Cleveland is, so far at least, very small: it’s launching with only 34 bikes and six docking stations across the Ohio City Neighbourhood on Cleveland’s West Side. The firm made savings on start-up costs by using standard bike racks and locks as opposed to a docking system: residents use an app to rent the bike, then receive a code which gives them access to a lockbox on the bike’s frame containing the bike lock keys.  One benefit of this method is that you can introduce more bikes, without adding docking stations, so the system can grow relatively organically. If the scheme proves successful it may expand to other neighbourhoods in 2015. 

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Cleveland’s Ohio City neighbourhood. Image: Columbusite at Wikimedia Commons.

In 2013, Cleveland’s sustainability department looked into setting up its own city-wide scheme. Its research found that there was scope for around 1,400 hire bikes in the city (around 40 times bigger than Zagster’s effort). So why didn’t the investors wait for public involvement? Because, the firm’s co-founder Tim  Ericson told Next City, if he’d left things to the city government, “bike-share in Cleveland could not have happened at all”. What a public spirited man.

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