TAMPA - Lots of cities around the world provide bicycles for rent by the hour or day. Starting this fall, Tampa will be one of them. Some 300 bikes will be available to the public from Ybor City to Bayshore Boulevard at 30 different stations.
The system planned for Tampa would be much like bike share programs in other cities from Boston to Barcelona. With the swipe of a card or the punch of a few buttons, locals and tourists will be able to hop on a bike with a helmet and then return their GPS-equipped bikes to one of dozens of stations around town.
"It's good for bike shops, good for the community, good for cycling," said Kevin Craft, manager of City Bikes. Craft admitted their bike rental concession on the Riverwalk might take a small hit, but he believes the bike-share system would promote more cycling overall.
But he also wants Tampa to create more bike lanes and trails to keep riders safe and connected. "If you were trying, say, to get from Bayshore over to Ybor, there's no specific bike route to get you there yet," said Craft.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn remembers Tampa's half-hearted attempt at bike sharing in the '90's when they painted up 50 or so bikes from the impound lot and just left them out. They were all stolen within weeks.
"I think every homeless guy in town was riding an orange bike, but that's not what we're talking about now," said Buckhorn.
The Mayor is excited about the companies chosen to provide the bikes and run the system, both of which have extensive experience with urban bike-sharing programs. The cost of the project should be covered by user fees and advertising revenue.
And though the broader Tampa Bay area is one of the most dangerous places in the nation to ride, Mayor Buckhorn believes Tampa is ready.
"There are enough visitors who come to stay in our hotels. There are enough young professionals who want to be a part of downtown that something like this will work, but we'll never know unless we try."
The bikes will be free to use for the first 30 minutes, then about five dollars an hour.