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Results are in from Billings bike/scooter share study

Posted at 6:09 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 09:24:27-05

BILLINGS — A study hoping to guide policy on bike and scooter share services in Billings found a bike share would benefit the city more, but would cost about $1 million to start up and $300,000 per year to maintain.

On Tuesday, members of the Billings City Council heard about the study from representatives of its author, Alta Planning and Design, along with Elyse Monat, active transportation planner for the city.

The study cost about $45,000 to conduct and was ordered by the Billings Yellowstone County Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees transportation planning for the Billings area, after the city had received multiple requests from bike/scooter share companies around 2019 looking to set up shop.

Bike share bicycles are usually used for short, 15-20 minute commuter or recreation trips.

"The bike and scooter share feasibility study was basically to figure out is bike and or scooter share possible in Billings and if so, what form would it take," Monat said.

The share services offer rented bikes or scooters that people typically use for short, daily commuter trips or recreation. Similar services have popped up in usually major metropolitan cities across the country, which have sometimes been marred with vandalism and other accidents with pedestrians.

The study found a bike share would provide a better service over scooters, which other municipalities have banned after accidents with pedestrians on the sidewalk.

If bike share were to take shape in Billings, the study outlined the downtown corridor and area near Montana State University Billings the best place to start the service, with 140 to 200 bikes and 17 stations.

The idea is that tourists and commuters can connect to the downtown area and other trails on the rented bikes.

Map showing the initial service area for a possible bike share service in Billings. Red bicycles on the map indicate stations where bikes can be picked up or dropped off.

Another aspect of bike share the study looked at is who should be responsible for implementation and maintenance.

A bike share would cost about $300,000 to launch in Billings. It's estimated to cost $450,000 to purchase the bikes and stations. It would cost about $300,000 per year to maintain, which includes finding misplaced bikes and bringing them back to a station. The study estimates a bike share could recoup 30 to 35 percent of its operations cost through rental fees.

If the city were to take on a bike share service alone, some City Council members weren't keen on spending $1 million for a service that would operate at a loss.

"I would rather spend $1 million and buy a fire station in the Heights is what I would rather do," said Council Member Mike Boyett, who represents Ward 5.

There is a possibility that a private company could take on the bike share project, but what usually happens is the municipality and a private company both have some skin in the game.

Mike Sellinger, planning associate for Alta said Billings isn't at the size where a private bike share company would make a profit.

"We do not expect to see that in Billings. I think the key finding of this study is that in order for a vendor to come in, they would need to have a contract with the city or another public agency so that there is not going to be profit made in this, but the city would be providing the operating contract for them to come in. We do have lots of cities of similar size and much smaller where that is the case," Sellinger said.

The bike share study is scheduled for approval at the Council's next meeting on Feb. 22. After that, the document moves to the transportation policy coordinating committee, made up of representatives from the city, county, and state government for approval.

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