If there’s one clear trend to come out of Covid-19, it’s that everyone is looking for new ways to exercise outdoors, and bicycles are a hotter commodity than ever.
Just ask Joe Freeman, operations manager for Coast Bike Share, a service that provides short-term bike rentals in Tampa and St. Pete. Speaking at the city’s virtual Complete Streets committee meeting Tuesday, Freeman said that the average ride time has doubled since the pandemic began.
“People couldn’t go to the gym so they were using the bike instead,” he said, adding that the typical rental time of 30 minutes is now averaging around an hour. “And that trend has held throughout the summer.”
Coast, which has been operating in St. Pete since 2016, was deemed an essential service when the pandemic began and Freeman’s team has adapted to the challenges of Covid-19. They’ve started a daily regimen of cleaning the bikes with CDC-regulation disinfectants and requiring staff members to wear PPE. Bikes that go into Coast’s shop for repairs are also thoroughly sanitized before returning to the streets.
Freeman hasn’t let the pandemic stand in the way of future plans for Coast’s growth and development. They’ll be releasing a new fleet of 350 bikes, 50 of which will be electrically assisted. The company will also be transitioning to a new transit app, HOPR, that’s already being used in Tampa and will allow riders to rent bikes using a QR code on their smartphones. People who already use Coast bikes will be able to migrate their ride time to the new app seamlessly, Freeman said.
As for what happens once electric scooters hit the streets of St. Pete in late September or early November, Freeman said that Coast will be sharing space at some of their parking corrals with scooter companies Razor and Veo. He’s hopeful that both modes of transportation can complement each other and provide residents and visitors with more transportation options, and he’s looking forward to continuing to expand the reach for Coast bikes into areas that need them.
“As long as people who need bikes are able to use them, that’s ultimately what’s important to me,” he said.