Bike share program goes before Charleston council Thursday

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A citywide bike share system that Charleston officials and bike enthusiasts have talked about for years could become a reality this week, and its first bikes could appear by next spring.

On Thursday, City Council is expected to vote on a contract with the Gotcha Group, the Charleston-based company selected in February to operate a high-tech system of bikes and corrals around the city.

“The process has been long, but a good one, because so many people have had a chance to weigh in,” said Gotcha Group founder Sean Flood. “It makes me as an owner feel even better about the system.”

The main provisions of the three-year deal give Gotcha Bike permission to operate in the city. The company would be responsible for 100 percent of its funding, operations, maintenance and management. It also establishes a process for locating bike corrals on public property.

Council’s Traffic and Transportation Committee recommended approval of the contract earlier this week.

The initial roll-out would deploy 250 bikes at 15 corrals downtown. More than half of those stations would not be on city property, such as corrals on the Medical University and College of Charleston campuses.

For any current or future corrals planned on public property, the company will have to go before the city’s Design Review Committee to get approval of their scope, design and locations.

Some locations already identified by the committee include Moultrie Playground near Colonial Lake; Hampstead Park on the East Side; Elmwood Avenue near the Citadel; Ann Street near the Visitor Center; George Street across from the Gaillard Center; next to the S.C. Aquarium parking garage; and on Liberty Street near King Street.

Flood said he fully supports that approval process.

“I kind of like that it’s not just us in the future deciding where racks should go,” he said. “We’re really comfortable with the launch plan so that we know we have a system that will work, it will be effective, and that they’re in the right spots.”

 If City Council agrees on the contract terms, it would proceed to a final vote in a few weeks. Flood will then have to present the corral locations again to the Design Review Committee.

Once the company has all the necessary permits from the city, Gotcha can then start building the bikes and corrals. It could be another few months until the system is on the streets, according to City Planner Jacob Lindsey.

Gotcha Bike won’t cost the city anything because riders will pay to use the bikes on an hourly basis, or they can pay upfront for a long-term pass to use them as needed. The Gotcha Group also will receive income through sponsorships. The title sponsor of the Charleston fleet hasn’t been announced.

Bikes could be checked out with a smart phone app, online or from a keypad on the rear of the bike.

A built-in lock will be released with a unique numeric code on the keypad, which frees users to take the bike and lock it up wherever their destination is. It must be returned to a Gotcha Bike hub for the paid trip to end.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

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