The difference between yesterday and today was great. Yesterday was full of hope. Today was full of reality. So, it was for the Summit County Bike share.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to ride with members of the community to celebrate the launch of Park City and Summit county’s joint electric bike program. We rode to the white barn. There the mayor gave an impassioned speech about watching geese fly overhead and hearing the sound of bats cracking when riding his e-bike. Other city and county figures spoke about how e-bikes will fit into the broader transportation system. Finally, many of them spoke about how this was the country’s first all electric bike share program, which brought broad cheers from the crowd.
Maybe we all should have paused to let that final comment sink in.
Today my wife decided to ride a Summit County E-Bike from the Kimball Junction to Prospector to pick up her other bike. I rode along on my Pedego e-bike. The ride started off great, as we pulled up to the bike rack and unlocked a bike. The bike racks are gorgeous and its almost like magic when you key the bike’s number into your phone and it unlocks the bike.
Then about a mile and a half into the ride, my wife hit a bump on the trail and the bike turned off. It wouldn’t turn back on. The bike became an 80 pound paperweight sitting on the paved trail next to Highway 224. What do you do? We tried everything we could to get the bike running again and we couldn’t get it rebooted. Then we looked for a phone number. There’s no phone number on the bike for support. We then opened the app and the contact us section of the app looks like it would email someone in Quebec. We tried that and still haven’t heard back. I called the Summit County Transportation Planner but she wasn’t available. Just as I was about to call the bike maker (Bewegen) in Quebec, my wife found a phone number on the bottom of the Summit County Bike Share website.
She called the number and the person asked if she could just ride the bike to the nearest bike rack. That would be the Canyons and it was about a mile and a half away. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem but the bike weighs something like 80 pounds and it’s fixed gear. She couldn’t do that. The person then asked if she could just lock it up where she was and walk. Again, we could have walked but you don’t rent an e-bike to walk it around the Basin. So, I sucked it up and rode the bike uphill for about a mile and a half, while she rode my bike. It’s the hardest physical exertion I have done in twenty years. I don’t know when my knees will forgive me.
Once we got to the Canyons, we actually ran into a Bewegen support person coming out of 7-11. She was very kind and gave my wife another bike to use. She asked if we had checked whether the bike was out of power (note to other riders: you need to do this before renting a bike… we’ll talk about that in another post). The broken bike magically turned on once it was back in the rack and we saw that the bike still had 3 hours of battery, so that wasn’t it. She also told us just to lock up the bike if it breaks down again and they will find it. You’re still walking, though.
If that was the end of the story, it would have been a mild inconvenience… but it continues…
Our plan was to drop off my Pedego for a tune-up at the Pedego shop near Sammy’s Bistro. My wife would pick up her bike and I would rent a Summit County E-bike and ride it back to Kimball Junction. Once we got to Prospector my wife and I parted ways. I went to Pedego and she got her bike. We met back up at the Prospector Square E-bike station, where we met a random person named Piper. It seems Piper’s Summit County E-bike had broken down just like my wife’s. She had walked her bike to the station and was trying to get another one. However, when she used her app to try and get a bike all it would say is “Alert: OK”. She had tried every bike in the rack. You got the feeling she had been there a long time. I then tried and all I got on the app was message saying “Alert: OK”. My wife, who successfully used the app 2 hours before got the same message.
The only bike we could use was one that someone had not pushed fully into the bike rack. We decided we couldn’t be jerks and pushed the bike back into the rack so the lock would engage (note to other riders: make sure you hear a faint ding from the bike when you rack your bike back up… or your bike isn’t really returned). We didn’t want the anonymous rider to get charged $2 per half hour just because they hadn’t successfully docked the bike.
Piper then headed off to catch an Uber. We joked that maybe the Summit County E-bike share was secretly owned by Uber.
I went back to Pedego to beg for a loaner bike, which they nicely accommodated.
Since arriving home after spending nearly 4 hours on what should have taken an hour and a half…we communicated this info to the county, who said they would address this up with Bewegen. Bewgen is managing the service for the city and county.
However, the issue is that no one knows who Bewegen is. The brand and organization at risk and responsible here is Summit County. Their name is on it.
I’d say about 10 people stopped and tried to help us with the Summit County E-Bike that had broken. We have a great community. However, all those people heard that the bike didn’t work. If Piper, the woman we met at the Prospector Square bike station, is half as friendly to others as she was to us… she has a thousand friends who likely heard negative things about the bike.
The problem is, when negative things happen, it makes you question an organization’s ability to deliver. The county is contemplating a guaranteed ride home if you took the bus. After today I ask, would that guaranteed ride home be 4 hours later? I think about the Cine Dahle parcel that the county bought, and wants to put 600-1200 units of affordable housing. Before, I questioned the idea. Is it a good idea? Now I question whether they could execute on it, even if they wanted to.
If we were the city and county, we would have people at every e-bike station tomorrow and throughout the weekend to help users. We would quickly print up labels with the support phone number on them and affix them to every bike. We would have a couple of vans ready to take people to their destination if the e-bikes break down and the person calls support.
These issues will be fixed. Hardware and software usually are. However, it’s a good lesson that Summit County and Park City need to be on top of this. They need to own it. It’s great to tout that we have the first fully electric e-bike share program. However, it’s evident that there are some downsides to that. Summit County and Park City are now in the rolling laptop computer business, whether they know it yet or not.
When your bike breaks down on Highway 224 and Flying Sprocket can’t even help you, you are in a brave new world … whether you want to be or not.