Baton Rouge's bike-sharing program has experienced a dramatic uptick in users since mid-March, when restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic left residents clamoring for new ways to take in the great outdoors. 

Gotcha Bikes installed nearly 30 bike stations in the Capitol city last summer and has recently seen a roughly 10-fold increase in the number of trips taken per day, according to Mark Armstrong, a spokesperson for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. 

To reduce the risk of spreading the highly infectious virus among users, Gotcha's fleet of technicians are disinfecting the bikes' hand grips, brake levers and bells multiple times a day, said Caroline Passe, a spokesperson for the South Carolina-based company. 

The bikes are located at hubs across downtown, LSU and Southern University. There are plans to expand the program in the future into Mid City and the Health District in the Perkins-Essen-Bluebonnet corridor. 

Riders use an app from Gotcha to pick up a bike from a designated stand, and, after they arrive at their destination, they can return the bike to another stand. 

East Baton Rouge Parish last year brokered a five-year contract with Gotcha capped at $801,000, though the city-parish secured a grant through the Federal Highway Administration's Transportation Program that is paying for 80% of the program's cost. 

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.

"We continue to think that bikes are a healthy, clean and environmentally-friendly way to get around and certainly a way to exercise in this unique time," said Michael Tipton, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation.  

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