A Cycle of Wellness: City of St. George Rolls Out New Bike-Share Program
By Marianne L. Hamilton
On a sparkling Thursday afternoon, a trio of female 20-somethings leisurely pedal the trail between Cottonwood Cove Park and Tonaquint Park, faces tilted toward the springtime sun. Over in Town Square, a couple of seniors carefully don helmets and climb astride gleaming new bikes for a neighborhood tour. And on the east side of the DSU campus, a student gives his iPhone a few clicks, unlocking a new bike of his own and heading to class.
For these riders and many more, the just-launched “LiVe Well St. George Bike Share” program has quickly become one of the city’s most popular initiatives. Aimed at improving mobility and transportation options, encouraging residents to be physically active, reducing traffic congestion, and promoting local innovation, Bike Share is now the hottest thing on…well, two wheels.
When St. George Mayor Jon Pike took office four years ago, he made a bike-share program one of his top priorities. As Regional Operations Director of SelectHeath – the insurance arm of the Intermountain Healthcare network – Pike notes that his company “is all about wellness,” and is committed to promoting community-wide wellness wherever possible.
It fell to Support Services Director Marc Mortensen to explore and eventually implement bike-sharing options. Given that Mortensen is an avid cyclist, Ironman triathlete, and veteran of multiple St. George Marathons, the assignment was a welcome one.
“I was thrilled when Mayor Pike asked me to research this,” said Mortensen, chair of the City’s Active Transportation Committee, whose goals include the encouragement of walking, running and cycling as alternative modes of conveyance. “It was extremely gratifying for me on a personal level, because I see the benefits that cycling has brought to my life. But more than anything I’m hoping this new program will change the culture here, and get people thinking about transportation options other than just using a vehicle to get around.”
Mortensen’s explorations of other cities’ programs led him to Cambridge, Mass.-based Zagster, which has launched more than 200 bike-share programs nationwide. “We felt that Zagster would be perfect for what we intended to do here,” Mortensen noted, adding that the bikes Zagster provides are 30 percent lighter than bicycles supplied by other programs, they’re easier to maneuver, and come equipped with bells and front and rear safety lights. “We really like a lot of the key features on the bikes, plus Zagster will be working with local bike shops to make any needed repairs,” Mortensen said.
When Bike Share was launched in January, the City entered into a public-private partnership that saw the purchase of 55 bikes parked at 10 stations scattered around town. Five stations are being sponsored by Intermountain, with Dixie State University, Brad Harr & Associates injury law firm, the Washington County Area Tourism Office, and Zagster stepping up to sponsor the remaining six stations (all are located within 3.5 miles of each other, facilitating easy bike rentals and point-to-point drop-offs). In all, the 55 bikes – which Mortensen pegs at $1,850 each – got rolling with a relatively modest startup cost of $90,000.
Said Mortensen, “With a typical bike-share program, that uses a ‘smart doc system,’ where users must swipe a credit card at a kiosk somewhere, it would have been just shy of half a million dollars to do what we’ve done. Zagster’s ‘smart bike system,’ which is based on a mobile device, is very cost-effective, and will allow us to grow our system for a fraction of that price.”
Renting a bike is as easy as it is economical: Download the free Zagster app and create an account, then go to the station of choice, choose a bike by entering the bike’s number into the app, and tap “start ride.” A unique code will open the lockbox; inside is a key to the U-lock attaching the bike to its station. When your ride is complete, simply return the bike to any Zagster station in the system. Fees range from $1 per half-hour of use, to memberships running $15 to $30 annually.
In Mortensen’s and the Mayor’s fondest dreams, Zagster’s local repair teams will have their hands full. “We want those bikes to be used; to be so worn out that they have to be replaced,” Mortensen laughed. “We don’t want to see the bikes in the racks; we want them out on the streets. Aside from the obvious health benefits of cycling, you get a whole new perspective of St. George when you’re looking at it from a bike.”
For more information about LiVe Well St. George Bike Share by Zagster,