Gotcha bike

Baton Rouge appears poised to finally get the bike-share program that the city's spent the past two years talking about.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome on Wednesday announced the selection of South Carolina-based Gotcha as the private vendor that will install and handle much of the day-to-day operations of the program, set to launch in early 2019.

The initial rollout of local government's public/private partnership with Gotcha will include 500 GPS-enabled e-bikes and 50 bike hubs in parts of the city, including LSU and Southern University.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council on Wednesday set a public hearing on the five-year agreement for Oct. 10, when the Metro Council is also expected to vote on the matter for final approval.

“Launching bike share in Baton Rouge continues our commitment to expanding transportation alternatives for our citizens,” the mayor-president said Wednesday in a news release. “Throughout this process, we were seeking a partner with expertise to serve both the community and local universities with integrated, multi-modal forms of environmentally-friendly transportation.”

Some Metro Council members, college students and community members who favor the bike-share program argue that it would improve the city’s quality-of-life, reduce parking issues in the downtown area and promote more active lifestyles for residents.

The city-parish’s contract with Gotcha is capped at $801,000, officials said Wednesday.

The city-parish secured a federal grant through the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Alternatives Program, which will pay for 80 percent of the program's costs, with the city-parish on the hook for the remaining 20 percent.

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Gotcha, which operates more than 30 bike-share systems on college campuses throughout the country and in cities in Florida, Ohio and Vermont, was selected through a competitive bid process conducted by the city-parish and a third-party partner, Bantam Strategy.

Lindsay Gray West, Bantam’s chief executive officer, said the contract also includes expansion options that could increase the offering of GPS-tracked bikes to 800 with an additional 30 hubs in the near future.

“They will manage everything; this won’t be an ongoing line-item on the city budget,” West said. “The city-parish basically holds the contract and has certain permissions so (Gotcha) can’t just do anything.”

Details regarding the name of the program, hub locations, pricing plans and bike design will be disclosed in the coming months, the Mayor-President’s Office said Wednesday.

Users will locate, reserve and pay to access and use the bikes through Gotcha’s mobile app. Riders will be able to check out bicycles for short rides from one hub to another any time of the day.

As the program evolves, information on usage will be forwarded to the city-parish’s planning department to inform future expansion decisions, such as where to install additional hubs throughout the city.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which in 2016 paid for a bike share study and created the Baton Rouge BikeShare nonprofit, has previously suggested Mid City and the Health District, an area around Perkins Road, Bluebonnet Boulevard and Essen Lane, as future expansion possibilities.

West, who also represents the bike-share nonprofit group, said Wednesday those suggestions are still in play.

“And it’s something we won’t have to come back to the city-parish and ask for more money on,” she said. “It’s already included in the contract.”

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.