It's finally happening.
Baton Rouge's bike share program officially launches Monday with 500 electric pedal-assist bikes available at 50 mobility hubs throughout the capital city.
Officials with South Carolina-based Gotcha said the company's bikes are available for immediate use, but they plan to host a launch event with local sponsors and the city-parish at 2 p.m. Thursday at Live Oak Plaza at North Boulevard Town Square.
"This is really the perfect example of a public-private partnership," said Sean Flood, CEO and founder of Gotcha. "So many groups came together to make this happen (and) this will be our largest fleet deployment."
A long-awaited bike share program will begin May 8 with 500 bicycles available to rent from 50 locations around Baton Rouge.
East Baton Rouge Parish has brokered a five-year contract with Gotcha that's capped at $801,000.
The city-parish secured a federal grant through the Federal Highway Administration's Transportation Alternatives Program that is paying for 80% of the program's costs, with the city-parish covering the remaining 20%.
Other financial backers and community sponsors include Blue Cross and Blue Shield Louisiana, Baton Rouge General, the state's Department of Transportation and Development, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Downtown Development District, the city-parish's parks and recreation system and LSU and Southern University.
The program was initially supposed to launch earlier this year, then was pushed back to March and is finally rolling out this week.
Flood said he understands any frustrations the public might have over the delays, attributing them to the company's decision to redesign the locking mechanisms on the bikes for the Baton Rouge market.
"We designed the front lock mechanisms that are more secure and user friendly," he said. "We wanted to make sure we engineered the bike correctly and I think that was the better decision."
Naysayers, however, have said the lack of sidewalks and bike lanes in many parts of the city-parish could hamper the program's success.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said efforts to make the area more bicycle friendly are well underway with projects in the city-parish's more than $1 billion roads improvement plan and the enhancements that were included in the Government Street "road diet."
"We're moving in that direction; biking has been an increasing part of our culture here," Broome said. "When I think about this whole bike share system, I certainly believe it enhances our mobility and transportation options for residents and visitors."
The system will initially involve 50 bike hub locations throughout the city and on the campuses of LSU and Southern University.
The bikes will be equipped with GPS tracking to deter theft and allow Gotcha to determine where best to deploy bikes.
Riders will use Gotcha's mobile app to pick up a bike from designated hubs. After the riders get to their destination, they will return the bike to another hub.
Gotcha is offering a variety of pricing options, including monthly and annual subscriptions, through its app. A pay-as-you-go option will charge riders $2 to unlock a bike and an additional 10 cents per minute of use.
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In addition to the subscriptions — $6.99 for students and $9.99 monthly and/or $59.99 for students and $79.99 annually — Gotcha is also offering a reduced $5 annual subscription for low-to-moderate-income residents through a partnership with community organizations that will distribute special subscription cards in under-served communities.
"From an equity standpoint, it's literally designed for everyone," Flood said.
There are plans to expand the program to eventually include approximately 80 hubs across the city-parish.
According to previous reports, the second phase will cover Mid City, while the third phase will include the Health District in the Perkins-Essen-Bluebonnet corridor.
Eventually there could be between 800 and 850 bikes across the parish.