Technical problems plague Chattanooga's bikeshare program

Technical problems plague Chattanooga's bikeshare program

August 11th, 2012 by Cliff Hightower in News

Pedestrians walk past the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System's Market Street kiosk early Friday afternoon.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

POLL: Will you join Chattanooga's bike-sharing program?

Phil McKenna flew down from his home near Philadelphia last weekend on a business trip.

The weather was pleasant and he saw something in this city he had never seen before on his travels: bicycles for rent.

He was excited for the chance to ride a bike, tour Chattanooga and get some exercise, he said.

But he found a problem. They didn't work.

He tried once. Twice. Thirteen times at 13 different stations. Over two days, he was able to rent a bike one time for 30 minutes, he said.

But that was it.

"It was frustrating," McKenna said. "I was excited about using it, and now I have no confidence the system will work."

The Chattanooga Bikeshare plan includes 28 bicycle stations dotting downtown streets. The idea is that people can rent a bike and ride anywhere in the city, dropping it off at a convenient station when they're finished.

But the program missed a starting day in April and another in May because of technical problems with some of the advanced equipment, officials said.

Finally, after a limited rollout in June, officials said the program is up and running. But some technical problems are persisting here and in other cities, and people are taking notice.

An opinion piece in the New York Daily News reported "software glitches and limited demand" in Chattanooga's program and use it as an example of why New York should slow down the implementation of its own bikeshare program.

But Phil Pugliese, the city's bicycle coordinator, said everything is working well and there are "occasional issues."

"There's still a bit of a learning curve," he said.

He said the city is collecting data on use of the system, but he would not doubt that use has been low because of the extraordinarily hot weather this summer. He expects usage to pick up as the weather begins to cool.

And what about software glitches?

"You can define anything as a software glitch," he said.

New technology confuses some people, he said, especially those unfamiliar with using a credit card in a machine.

Alta Bicycle Share, based in Portland, Ore., and Public Bike System Co., in Montreal, Canada, helped develop the bicycles and equipment being used in Chattanooga. Pugliese said it is new, sophisticated technology that has not been used anywhere else.

Officials with Alta Bicycle Share and Public Bike System Co. did not respond to numerous calls and emails concerning the system.

The two companies also are helping Chicago and New York City install bicycles. New York City's program was supposed to start last month, but it has been held up by "software glitches," according to media reports.

Chicago also decided this week to delay its program until spring.

Tom Alexander, spokesman for the city of Chicago, said the delay mainly had to do with an enormous amount of infrastructure that needed to be placed because Chicago is a large city.

But some Chattanooga residents say they enjoy the bicycle share program and use it regularly.

Kathryn Nash said she is renovating a home on Main Street to live in and, at first, she planned to buy a commuter bike to get around downtown. But she bought an annual bikeshare pass a few weeks ago.

"Now that there is a station just a few steps from my door, I will continue to use this program," she said. "It's nice not having to maintain a bike. I'm sold!"

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