A consultant has told the Covington City Council that St. Tammany Parish can support a fleet of 187 smart electric bikes with 53 hubs across the parish — findings that were made in a recently completed feasibility study commissioned by the Northshore Community Foundation.
Lindsey Gray, president and CEO of Bantam Strategy Group, presented the results of the study at the council's meeting on May 7. It concluded that a privately owned and operated bike-sharing program with no government funding is the preferred model for St. Tammany.
The program would be funded by user fees and sponsorship and advertising partnerships, according to a plan summary. The study predicts a nearly $1 million annual shortfall for operational and capital costs would need to be made up by sponsorships.
Gray said that a survey of about 400 parish residents showed that 67 percent supported a bike-share program.
The next step is to seek requests for proposals from operators, she said. There would be a strong recommendation that the proposals include partnering with a locally owned bike shop for maintenance, which Gray said could bring in $100,000 to $150,000 a year to that business.
She said the program is not intended to compete with shops that rent bikes for a day or several days, but is aimed at riders who will make shorter trips. For example, a membership in the bikeshare program would allow the rider an hour of biking time per day.
The program, however, is drawing concern from Patrick Brooks, owner of Brooks' Bike Shop in downtown Covington. Brooks came to the meeting with some employees and friends.
Jodie Burke, who was in the group, told the City Council that in New Orleans, some families had lost their bike rental businesses after a bike share program was launched there.
Brooks said he is unhappy that the feasibility study was funded in part with public money — the city of Mandeville put up $25,000. CLECO put up $140,000.
Councilman Patrick McMath questioned the use of electric bicycles, since they are not allowed on the Tammany Trace.
Gray said she thinks there is an "openness" to allowing the type of bikes envisioned, which are still peddled and can be used more easily by the elderly and obese. But she said there are some potential concerns about restrictions on the Trace and the Americans with Disability Act.
Also during the meeting, Covington Police Chief Stephen Culotta presented recently promoted officers, including Robert Blount, who was named deputy chief. Others who were promoted include Lt. Trey Mahon, Lt. James Blackwell and Sgt. Edwin Masters. A new officer, William Seals, also was introduced.
In other council business, the board adopted a resolution authorizing Mayor Mike Cooper to accept a two-block section of La. 437, from its intersection with North Columbia Street to U.S. 190, from the state Department of Transportation and Development after improvements have been made.
Mayor Mike Cooper said the section is going to be overlaid. The city will also get an $80,000 credit with DOTD, which it can use for other improvements.