ValleyBike Share begins third season after nearly three-month delay

  • ValleyBike Share's Florence Center station is located in front of Cooper's Corner at Chestnut and Main Streets. Photographed on Thursday, June 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • New this year on the ValleyBike Share kiosks is this additional sticker outlining steps to stay healthy. Photographed at the Florence Center station on Thursday, June 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • ValleyBike Share's Florence Center station is located in front of Cooper's Corner at Chestnut and Main Streets. Photographed on Thursday, June 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • ValleyBike Share's Florence Center station is located in front of Cooper's Corner at Chestnut and Main Streets. Photographed on Thursday, June 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • ValleyBike Share's Florence Center station is located in front of Cooper's Corner at Chestnut and Main Streets. Photographed on Thursday, June 25, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2020 8:58:30 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After a nearly three-month delay to the start of its third season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular bike-sharing program ValleyBike Share began offering its services to riders in the area Monday.

The community-based program has reopened stations for its electric-assist bicycles in each of its served communities except for Springfield, according to Wayne Feiden, the program’s project director. Communities get to choose when to reopen the service, Feiden said, and while Springfield has not yet made that determination, others such as Amherst, Easthampton, Northampton, Holyoke, South Hadley, Amherst and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have.

“It always takes a few weeks to phase up, so about half of the stations are open now,” said Feiden, who also serves as Northampton’s director of planning and sustainability. “Some stations can survive through the winter, some had to come out for snow plowing — so some of those stations haven’t come back yet.”

According to its website, ValleyBike Share has transported area riders a total of 282,835 miles on 127,279 rides since debuting in 2018. As of Wednesday, there have been 343 rides on the service this year, for a total distance traveled of about 976 miles.

The bike-share program usually starts its season April 1, Feiden said, meaning the delay resulted in a loss of ridership for the service as well as a likely loss of revenue for its vendor, Bewegen Technologies.

Feiden said he doesn’t know if the program will attract fewer riders overall because of COVID-19. Bike-sharing program Citi Bike in New York City has seen an increase inridership during the past few months as people opt out of taking subways and buses, Feiden said, but smaller towns have seen fewer riders as people travel less frequently.

And because the program missed out on spring, it also missed out on UMass students — ValleyBike’s heaviest users, according to Feiden.

“I’m going to be watching the numbers very carefully,” Feiden said. “It’s a great question that we’re totally guessing at.”

Since transportation was considered essential during the height of the pandemic, ValleyBike Share had always been allowed to operate, Feiden said. But program managers didn’t feel comfortable having workers out and about, so they delayed the opening until now.

“On April 1, the message I would send is ‘Go in your home and go out only for essential things,’” Feiden said. “Now the message is, ‘Wear a mask, do social separation, be very careful, but exercise, go out — don’t be a couch potato.’”

Feiden said that ValleyBike is an outdoor activity that is “well-suited” for physical distancing between people. The bicycles also have electric pedal-assist, he said, making them easier to ride while wearing a face mask.

He said people should either bring a wipe with them to sanitize the bike’s handles before riding or make sure that they don’t touch their face before washing their hands. Workers also clean the bikes when they maintain them, but Feiden said there’s no telling for riders when the last time someone came around. The program is putting out stickers and signs to remind people about good hygiene and preventive measures against COVID-19.

“Nothing is totally risk-free,” Feiden said. “People have to be responsible for themselves.”

And while the season normally ends around Dec. 1, Feiden said, there has been some preliminary discussion of a possible limited winter presence of ValleyBike sometime in the future.

“We’re not quite there yet,” he said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.



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