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A disappointing start for the Summit County E-Bike Share

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.

Comments

16 Comments

Ellen

Janna hitchhiking!!!

I rented three bikes today just to test them out. Started at the library, but the Kiosk wasn’t working. Spent 25 minutes in the baking sun with tech support before he told me the kiosk wasn’t working. Waited for a bus and went up to the Transit Center. Ends up I don’t need the kiosk at all with a fob. Why couldn’t the guy at tech support tell me that? Took a bike down to Canyons. Checked out another bike and went back up to Fresh Market. Took out another bike and went back to the Transit Center. My second bike seemed to have much more zip than my first and third bike. But I bloody broke a sweat. I don’t ride ebikes to get exercise, I ride them to commute. These bikes are a lot of work. And Oh. So. Slow. Good grief, us Pedego owners will always complain about these sloths. Stopped by Pedego to let Dan take it for a spin. Afterwards, he was very happy, and said that Pedego had nothing to worry about, these bikes won’t take any business away from them. I commend the county for creating this program, and I really hope that the problems that people are having are just growing pains. I bought an annual membership to support the program and maybe save some wear and tear on my bike…but I’m not sure how much I’ll really use it.

Janna Mann

So…I’m the one in the photo. I’d like to chime in. I want this program to be a resounding success. I love my own ebike and hope this program opens up the opportunity to travel this way to others. I hope the parkrag article is viewed as constructive not just a critique. I know (because I’m married to the guy who wrote this article) that it was intended as such.

Terry Moffitt

Great insight. Great picture. Great ideas for solutions. I hate to say it but I’m actually glad this “break down” happened to such a nice couple because you have the platform and the smarts to hopefully create some positive change. PS. My what nicely sculpted thighs you have Josh, must’ve been the great work out.

Walt

Ouch. That is not good. The whole point, as I understand it, is that the bikes should be easy to get/return, and easy to ride/very functional/indestructible. It sounds like currently NONE of those things is the case.

As an aside, are they really fixed gears? As in, you cannot coast down a hill but have to keep pedaling?

Parkrag

I probably butchered that term (I’ll change that). Thanks for pointing that out.

From watching my wife ride it, there appears to be a single gear. When my wife was pedaling and the assist kicked in, she would just be spinning the pedals…So, she would try and coast but then the power drops out of the pedal assist. That made it hard to start pedaling again. So, she would just keep the pedals spinning so the assist wouldn’t completely go away when she needed it.

When she was going down hill she could coast.

Is the right term “single-gear” or is there a better one?

Thanks Walt!

Walt

I think most folks would call it a singlespeed. Why is it hard to start pedaling again if you stop? Does the assist take a significant time to come back on when you start pedaling or something?

I need to rent one and try it out, obviously, but it sounds like these things are going to have a hard time appealing to the folks who are the target demographic (interesting in riding a bike but don’t want to work too hard).

Parkrag

Thanks for the clarification on the naming.

I would love for you to try one and get your opinion. As a person in the business you could probably provide an accurate, technical review of the system.

I will say that I tried another e-bike yesterday and it had more zip when I started pedaling.

Steve Joyce

This is why I never go to a new restaurant the first week or two. I am glad someone does though.

DanaB

Wait till after the soft opening 🙂

Parkrag

I remember going to a restaurant’s soft opening in SLC one night accidentally. The only edible thing were these “somewhat” over-fried doughnuts.

I learned that night that you don’t invite Fox 13 News to your soft opening. 🙂

Chris O

This is what every cutting edge, first-mover, Eco program needs. Someone to bash the hell out of it on day one…or day two. Are the bikes really intended to be ridden 4+ mile distances? It would seem the bikes would serve better to supplement the bus system rather than replace it. Perhaps ride the bike share bikes from one point to another within the area where you picked it up, then ride the bus to the other areas of town. Comparing bike share bike share bikes to your Pedego bike is like comparing your Porsche to a city bus. You readers have to get pretty far in to your article before you offer anything positive about the country’s first all electric bike share program.

Parkrag

You make a fine point.

That said, keep in mind this isn’t Bewegen’s first rodeo. They have e-bike share programs in 3 other American cities and 5 European cities. They started in 2015 and have over 1000 rental e-bikes in use. http://bewegen.com/our-cities/

As for distances, that should be interesting to see. The woman we met who was having trouble at the Prospector station (who couldn’t get the system to work) was wanting to ride to Main Street. That supports the idea of short rides. Maybe that will be common. However, I don’t envision many people riding from the outlet mall to Christy’s sports in the Junction. Maybe they would ride from the Kimball Junction Transit Center to Maxwells and back to do some shopping? Maybe? We’ll have to see. I know there are people who would ride from KJ to Canyons, or PC to Canyons, or PC to KJ… if it was comfortable.

I don’t think I really compared the Summit e-bike to a Pedego in this article. In a previous article I did say I hoped the e-bike share would lead people to move up to a Pedigo, iZip, Radwagon, etc.

This article was more about faulty equipment and process. Specifically that criticism is targeted at Bewegen and Corps Logistics. They furnished the equipment and appear to manage the service. That said, it ultimately falls on Summit County and Park City to manage those providers. I recognize that’s difficult when you only have a couple of transportation managers. However, the buck does stop somewhere.

The Park Rag is critical of things because we care. We want things to be better. That’s why we try to not only whine but suggest solutions. In this case hopefully we provided fuel for our local governments to tell Bewegen and Corps Logistics to get their shit together. Otherwise, either no one knows there are issues or they are often swept under the rug. It’s like when the Bewegen rep told my wife and I (when we saw her outside the 7-11), that my wife’s Summit e-bike had probably just run out of battery and that she should have checked that before she started. I asked her to show us how to check that. The bike then showed my wife’s broken Summit E-Bike had 3 hours left on the battery. The Bewegen Rep then took the issue more seriously.

We hope someone takes the issues seriously. We hope they fix things. We hope they make it better.

Doug

park city problems…..always fun to read; never worth taking too serious.

Walt

Anecdotal update: the bikes are SUPER popular as far as I can tell. There were even teenagers repeatedly paying to re-up after 45 minutes to joyride on them when we were having dinner at Maxwell’s last night. A steady stream of people were renting and returning them and seemed really excited about it.

Good signs!

Parkrag

But Walt, that’s illegal… you have to be 18 years old to rent them :-).

I agree that they seem really popular. I often see the bike racks empty… which is a good sign.

Ellen

I hate to bitch and moan again, but I tried to take these bikes out today. The app said there was one at the library. Checked that one out with no problem, got on, started biking and realized that it had a bloody flat tire. Hopped on a bus to go to the Transit Center, where apparently six bikes were available. There were five there, none of which would unlock. Two gave me a notice that they were reserved (huh? Since when can people reserve these bikes?), and the other three wouldn’t unlock. I’d just wasted an hour trying to support this program. Sigh, how can this program succeed if the bikes aren’t available? I haven’t lost patience yet, I will continue to keep trying, but how many people will be as diligent as me?


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