Healdsburg is on the verge of becoming the first city in Sonoma County to offer a bike-share program to make it easier for people to get around on two wheels.
Described as a fun, low-cost, low-impact transportation alternative, the program was given the green light this week by the City Council.
The 30 short-term rental bikes spread among five “docking stations” is targeted at residents and workers for short trips, not tourists who want to head out to nearby valleys for scenery and wineries.
It’s envisioned for use by employees who might park at the train depot and take a bike into downtown, or for those who might want to use a bike to go to lunch from their workplace to the Healdsburg Plaza.
Vice-mayor Brigette Mansell described it as a “culture shift,” and a way to get people out of cars.
“Did you know this makes me very happy?” she said of the program. “Bikes are really where it’s at.”
City officials say riders can unlock and return bikes with a phone app or text that charges the rental to a credit or debit card.
Each dock has a mechanized system that locks and releases the bicycles, but the bikes also have a Bluetooth ring lock to repel theft when not parked in the docks.
The program not only promotes healthy commuting, but “frees up parking downtown if done right,” said Assistant City Manager Heather Ippoliti.
The City Council voted unanimously to appropriate $54,125 to cover the initial launch cost for the program with Zagster Inc., the company that provides the bicycles, dock stations, credit card processing, maintenance, insurance and 24/7 customer support service.
But the city expects to recoup much of its cost because it will get more than 90 percent of the rental revenue. Local businesses are also anticipated to sponsor some of the dock stations in exchange for branding rights.
Founded 10 years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Zagster is described as the leading provider of bike-shares, with more than 150 programs in cities, universities and businesses in the U.S. and Canada.
The bikes could be available in Healdsburg by September, although city officials are still working out details such as rental rates.
Initially, city staff recommended the first hour be free and the rate afterward $3 per hour.
But concern was expressed at Monday’s City Council meeting that such a rate could lead to bikes being snapped up by tourists for longer forays into Dry Creek and Alexander valleys and cut into the business of local shops that rent out bikes.
“We want to make sure we protect established businesses,” said Councilman Gary Plass.
Councilman Joe Naujokas said there should be increased fees for riding outside city limits.
Bicycle shop owners expressed support for the program, but said the proposed fee structure needed to be revised to discourage bike touring.
“For $15 you could rent a bike for six hours — less than half of what it would be in a local shop,” said John Mastrianni, owner of Wine Country Bikes.
He said there were also safety issues to consider. Bike shops advise tourists to obey traffic laws, wear a helmet, ride single-file and not cycle under the influence.