Bike Sharing in Lancaster, PA: revitalization, growth, and partnership
Community Spotlight Contributors:
Karl Graybill (Environmental Planner, City of Lancaster)
Keli Hoyt-Rupert (Founder & CEO, Tandem Mobility)
Launching a new shared mobility program requires operator-partner collaboration, strategic visioning, and careful execution. Ongoing success is determined by how mindful we are in community & stakeholder engagement and in our daily operations.
Today we’re throwing a spotlight on Lancaster, PA - a community in motion. With specific climate, transportation, and livability goals top of mind, the City and stakeholders have prioritized many cycling initiatives, one of which is the recently re-launched Bike It Lancaster bike share program.
I’ve compiled comments from both sides of the partnership - Keli Hoyt-Rupert, CEO of Tandem Mobility & Karl Graybill, Environmental Planner with the City of Lancaster - to provide a full perspective on what it takes to launch and sustain a successful bike share program.
Why is bike sharing important in Lancaster?
KARL: Bike share in Lancaster provides another, more affordable mobility option for people who live, work and visit the city. In addition to being an inexpensive and convenient way to get around, it’s a healthy choice. Lancaster is a compact and walkable city, so you can ride almost anywhere within the city-limits in under 15 minutes.
KELI: Lancaster in the region is risk taker & thought leader. Over the past 10-20 years They’ve been revitalizing Main Street, retaining local talent, working to increase green space, etc. Bike sharing as a service for the City - and eventually as a service for the connected region - just makes sense.
How did you get the program off the ground?
KARL: The Bike It Lancaster bike share system was many years in the making before launching with Zagster in October 2017. Back in 2013, a committee was formed with partners from Lancaster general Health, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster City Alliance, Red Rose Transit Authority, Lancaster County Planning and Commuter Services of PA to look at bringing bike share to Lancaster. We looked at different models and talked to other providers and systems, before settling on the turn-key program offered by Zagster.
KELI: We connected with Lancaster soon after the Zagster program shut down to learn more about the community’s needs and current budget, and to understand how we could best support the City’s efforts to re-launch a new and improved bike share in Lancaster. In the early days of the conversations I enjoyed working with the city - and with Karl specifically - because Karl recognized bike share as a valuable amenity in Lancaster. So he was in action mode. It was not a question of “should” we do this. But his questions were targeted at “are you the best operator to pick up the pieces and help grow the system”. He understood the importance of this project being a true partnership, and came to the table very organized and very proactive. So when we said we can launch in 30-45 days if he provided certain deliverables, he made it happen: station coordinates, dock locations, rider pricing, branding. It happened immediately, which enabled us to do what we do best: launching and operating programs using our efficient and scalable project management and operations processes. The Bike It Lancaster launch went smoothly, largely because Karl was an engaged partner and cared deeply about the impact this program would have on his community.
How is Bike It Lancaster good for the community, good for the sponsors?
KARL: Bike share provides a fun, convenient, healthy and inexpensive option for people to get around Lancaster. I can’t speak for all the sponsors, but having the City of Lancaster and Bike It Lancaster brands on bikes says the City is forward thinking, it cares about the health and wellbeing of the people of Lancaster. And we want to provide an array of amenities that make Lancaster a place people want to live, work and visit.
KELI: Bike sharing programs provide a unique branding opportunity for local sponsors. We enjoy partnerships with sponsors in the healthcare, financial, tech, hospitality, and retail industries, just to name a few. In Lancaster a variety of local organizations are reinforcing their commitment to wellness and healthy communities by showcasing their brand on the bikes and stations. A title sponsorship for the program would help to grow the system to the desired number of 50-75 bikes, and I know that’s top of mind for Karl right now: finding additional sponsors, including a title sponsor, to ensure that this program is here to stay.
What makes for a successful bike share program?
KELI: Having an engaged partner is critical, as is having clear and mutually agreed-upon goals. We know the City launched with less than the ideal number of bikes. Karl realized that getting the program back up and running, even with slightly fewer bikes than previously, was a critical first step. In the first 6 months we’re seeing some of the pain of having too few bikes: lots of demand, lots of movement between certain stations, and a resulting lack of bikes available for everyone who wants to ride. So in the near term we can offer resources and make suggestions on what’s worked in other markets, leveraging our experience with sponsorship and rider engagement, and let Karl do what he does best, which is to leverage local connections to identify potential opportunities to grow the program next year. It’s in everybody’s best interest to sustain and grow the bike share, and we all have a role to play in growth strategy and tactical execution.
How does this City-Operator partnership impact day-to-day operations?
KELI: We’re holding each other accountable. Karl actually goes above and beyond what a local partner should be doing - he’s riding the bikes, stopping by stations, and checking on things. He cares about the program. When he follows up with us, he escalates and surfaces any issues. He’s providing more eyes and ears on the ground, in addition to our mechanics who are only going to be there every 2 weeks. The only way to improve the system over time is to have a strong understanding of how it’s being used, and to collect as much feedback as possible so we can collaborate on solutions moving forward.
What trends are you noticing in how the system is being used?
KARL: One trend that is obvious, is the system is used as a convenience, a way to get from place to place more easily than driving and quicker than walking. The other obvious trend is that the current system is more popular than the previous one.
An few interesting stats:
Average trip time is 32 minutes
There is strong ridership every day of the week, with a slight uptick seen on the weekends.
July was the busiest month to date
About half of the trips taken to date have been associated with annual membership holders
Which areas of town are using this system the most? Which areas of town either don’t have easy access to the program or are just not yet included in the program’s footprint?
KARL: It’s not a surprise that the most used stations are in the Northwest quadrant of the City. The original City of Lancaster was a compact 4 square miles laid out in a grid pattern with the center being truly in the center. From that point, it’s one mile north, south, east and west. Therefore, areas of the City are referred to as SW, SE, NW, and NE. Most of the stations are closest to the center except in the NW at Franklin and Marshall College and far north at the Amtrak station.
What is your vision for the future of this program? How do we get there?
KARL: My vision is that there will be a station within a 10 minute walk from anywhere within 2 miles of Central Market, that’s the heart of the City. That would take it into the surrounding suburbs beyond the city limits. I would also like to see a title sponsor of at least 50 bikes and 10 docking stations, along with another 10 virtual stations. And, lastly, connect the five surrounding counties into a regional bike share system.
KELI: In addition to the density & growth vision that Karl mentioned, I’m particularly interested in the shifting culture reflected in the work Karl & the local bike community is doing alongside the growth Tandem is doing. We’re kind of growing up together. Lancaster is a fun partner to work with - Karl is engaged and interested in his community growing. And we’re growing at a pace to help meet them where they are at. Bikes are important. Bike share is important, and we see this play out in the bike share ride data over time.
What are some opportunities for the business community to support bike sharing in Lancaster?
KARL: Of course, we would welcome financial support of bike share by local businesses through being a sponsor. But also visible support of bicycling by local businesses can go a long way toward getting more people out of cars and onto bikes, which would benefit bike share. Installing a bike rack in front of their business and supporting local bicycling organizations such as Lancaster Bikes Coalition, Bicycle South Central PA, The Common Wheel, and Lancaster Bicycle Club can go a long way to getting more people out of cars and onto bikes, all of which would benefit bike share.
KELI: Contact Karl to talk about sponsorship opportunities for 2022. There is immediate interest in securing $20,000 to add bikes to the fleet, with additional larger title sponsorship opportunities to help grow the system to underserved areas.
Karl Graybill, AICP
Don’t forget to complete our brief Lancaster bicycling survey to earn 2 hours of free ride time with Bike It Lancaster! We’d love your feedback by October 10th, 2021. Thank you!