Editorial: ValleyBike Share a winner for region

  • Pioneer Valley Planning Commission senior transportation planner Jeff McCollough of Hatfield and Pioneer Valley Transit Authority marketing and advertising director Brandy Pelletier of Monson examine several dozen electric-assist bicycles during the ValleyBike Share launch event held at Smith College in Northampton on June 28. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 7/10/2018 8:46:06 PM

ValleyBike Share is a welcome addition to public transportation in the region, and we hope that its 500 bicycles log many miles this summer.

The program launched late last month is environmentally friendly, provides a healthy alternative to motor vehicles and is affordable and accessible. The public bicycles are available at 50 stations in five communities: Amherst, including the University of Massachusetts campus, Northampton, South Hadley, Holyoke and Springfield.

Bike-sharing is intended for recreational trips or short commutes, generally an hour or less. The bikes can be picked up and returned at any of the stations. In addition to providing a secure dock for the electric-assist bicycles, the stations charge their motors that assist riders in pedaling. The motors, which can be turned off, do not propel the bikes on their own.

Although the motor “does give you a boost, you still have to pedal it,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, who believes bike-sharing will be popular because it matches the values of the region and its residents. “We think it will work really well in the Valley.”

He likened it to the car-sharing service operated by Zipcar in Northampton. Bike-sharing, the mayor said, “will provide that extra mile that PVTA can’t always provide, and that is too far to walk and short to drive. We are proud to serve all residents, including those with the least options.”

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is a partner with the five communities and UMass. “ValleyBike is yet another exciting example of how our region, and its cities and towns, are working collaboratively and proactively to shape a smart and sustainable future for us all,” said Timothy Brennan, the commission’s executive director. “ValleyBike not only introduces a new type of shared mobility, but offers a creative and sensible way to improve our air (and) our health, while capturing the benefits of modern-day pedal power.”

ValleyBike Share, which has been planned for more than four years, is modeled after similar programs in some 70 communities across the United States, including Blue Bikes in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline, and Citi Bike in New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. Besides those metropolitan areas, bike-sharing has been successful in smaller cities with a variety of climates.

A $1.3 million federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant paid for Bewegen Technologies of Quebec City to manufacture the bikes and charging stations. Bewegen is among the leaders in the bike-sharing field, developing programs in North America and Europe. In 2015, it delivered the first U.S. electric-assisted, bike-sharing program in Birmingham, Alabama.

ValleyBike Share’s 500 bicycles include 210 donated by Bewegen, which partnered with Corps Logistics, a company that employs veterans, to assemble the equipment in Florence.

Local businesses, which are sponsoring some of the docking stations, and members are expected to pay the bike-sharing system’s operating costs, which are estimated at about $430,000 annually. ValleyBike Share is offering founding memberships that provide an unlimited number of 60-minute rides during the first year for $90. An additional fee is charged for any rides that last more than an hour.

There are a variety of pricing plans to help make bike-sharing accessible to people of all income levels. An unlimited number of rides of up to 45 minutes will cost $80 a year or $20 a month. Day passes cost $6, while a single ride of up to 45 minutes is $2.

Bicycles can be unlocked at any station by using a membership card or the ValleyBike Share mobile app. Northampton has 140 bicycles at 14 stations, scattered through downtown and in Florence, as well as near rail trails. There are 10 stations in Amherst, with five each in town and on the UMass campus.

Lucia Foley, of South Hadley, was among the Valley residents who attended the June 28 event in Northampton launching ValleyBike Share. Though she hasn’t biked in many years, Foley said she may use the program because she supports regional approaches to transportation. “The more ways to get around efficiently, the better,” she added.

ValleyBike Share is a practical addition to those options that we think will be well-received.

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