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Two applicants for Calgary bike share pilot; reduced operation zone for winter

Two companies will likely be part of the first phase of Calgary’s bike share pilot project, and they’ll be confined to the downtown area to start.

Earlier this summer, city council approved the delivery of a bike share pilot project in Calgary, slated to be rolled out later this fall. Approval hinged on the fact the city wouldn’t be putting any funding into the program for infrastructure, instead allowing for the dockless models to use city right-of-ways and the pathway system.

The application period for bike share operators closed Sept. 14 and the city confirmed that two operators completed their permit application. While the city wouldn’t confirm the specific businesses, both US bike share operator Lime (formerly LimeBike) and Canadian operator U-Bicycle had previously confirmed their applications to LiveWire Calgary.

No decision has been made on the successful applicants.

Calgary cycling coordinator Tom Thivener said he wasn’t surprised by the low number of applicants for the first phase. Many companies are playing wait-and-see, but they’re also hedging their bets on winter operations and waiting for Phase 2 of the rollout, which starts in June 2019.

“Given the shortness of how long it takes to mobilize, I knew that there was only really two or three companies that had the horses and ability to mobilize that quick,” Thivener said.

Thivener said some companies were merely kicking tires and others were still hoping for some sort of government subsidy.

As for the two applicants, Thivener said they’re working with the providers on some of the finer details in the applications before making a final decision on who’s awarded a permit.

U-bicycle spokeswoman Mia Zhang said should their company be awarded a permit, it’s still an internal discussion when they would launch. It’s also a discussion they need to have with the city.

Like Lime, Zhang said the biggest hurdle U-bicycle sees in the Calgary market is the potential for heavy snow and bitter cold in the winter. That’s why they could end up haggling with the city on a start date.

“The weather is a challenge,” Zhang said.

RELATED: Calgary bike share applications open; here’s the rules operators have to follow

One interesting twist that U-bicycle brings to the bike share landscape is that it’s not exactly dockless. While they don’t have specific physical infrastructure that holds the bikes, they proposed 44 drop zones in the city where people could park the bikes. These are geo-fenced areas that will allow bike activation.

Zhang said in other rollouts they’ve only allowed users to complete the bike share transaction if they drop the bike off in that drop zone.

“It will actually work better in terms of keeping the street clean and also allows us to educate people in how to park responsibly,” Zhang said.

This method also allows them to streamline their rebalancing operation – or the shifting of bikes from one zone to another based on the demand.

Zhang did say, however, that their Calgary proposal did allow for the bikes to be parked anywhere within the prescribed zones, but that they would incentivize the replacement of bikes in the zones by lowering the rate.

And it appears those zones will be in a very specific area, according to Thivener.

The first phase, because it’s being rolled out in the fall and through the winter, will be using a reduced operations map. According to information provided by the city, the Dockless Bike Share Pilot is city-wide and permitted operators will identify their individual service areas and where bicycles will be available for rental within Calgary.

A requirement for the winter season is that all operators contain their operating zones to Centre City, though Calgarians will be able to find bicycles in the Centre City and at popular destinations throughout the warmer months of the pilot.

“We know there’s a higher level of snow clearance that people can rely on, but once you get out of the that  (Centre City) zone it becomes a little bit hit-and-miss between how the bikeways are cleared of snow,” he said.

“If we had stronger snow clearance city-wide, we’d certainly be open to a broader area.”

He said bikes can be taken outside of that zone for operation but need to be checked out and returned to those areas within the reduced operations map. The zones will be expanded once the snow is gone.

It’s expected the city will make a final decision on operators late this week or early the week of Oct. 1.