Deco Bike hopes to launch program in early March
With less than one third of its stations around Miami Beach remaining to be installed, the citywide shared bicycle program, Deco Bike, could be rolled out in just a couple of weeks.
“We hope to up and operating the first week in March,” said Oscar Ramirez, one of the partners with Deco Bike. “We agreed with the City to launch when we had 50 stations and we have 35 now.”
Ramirez said that the City of Miami Beach has hired a consultant to collect feedback from Miami Beach business operators and residents about their feelings about a Deco Bike station being located in their vicinities. Deco Bike representatives are participating in the process, which is designed to gauge interest but which does not necessarily dictate where remaining stations will be installed.
“As we put in the remaining station, we want to get an idea of what the support is like out there,” Ramirez said.� “We will try to place them closer to businesses that are supportive of the program if at all possible.”
Ramirez said that in his conversations, reaction has been good.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support from businesses,” he said.
One sticking point is that a portion of stations for Deco Bike are being placed in parking spaces — taking a valuable parking space out of operation for motorists.
“The way I explain it is that in many cases a parking space is used by one car for eight hours,” Ramirez said. “Now, many different people can use the same space when the program is operating.”
Not all of the stations are taking over parking spaces, Ramirez points out. Others are being located� in parks and green spaces around the city.
Miami Beach Commissioner Deede Weithorn, a cyclist and supporter of the program, also said that the only complaints she has heard about the new program is the loss of parking spaces. But that loss is mitigated by a successful programs.
“If the system works and it gets used by a lot of people, I think it will be fine,” Weithorn said. “If it doesn’t, we’ll end up with the parking spaces back.”
Still, even program supporters acknowledge that parking is always a valuable and rare commodity in the city and South Beach in particular. Not everyone is comfortable with the loss of even a handful of parking spaces.
“I have to drive all over the beach for work, going into and out of businesses and it is such a hassle to find any parking,” says Gerry Holmes, a graphic designer. “They really shouldn’t be eliminating parking. My schedule doesn’t allow me to find one parking space and then bicycle around everywhere I need to go.”
For the most part, though, the hope is that the program will benefit everyone.
“A lot of people on vacation can take advantage of it, as well as residents — some of whom hopefully can decide to leave their cars at home,” Weithorn said.
According to Ramirez, Deco Bike is the most ambitious program of its kind in the United States.
“This is the largest bike sharing program in the United States,” he said. “We have done it before in parks, but never anything of this magnitude.”
At full operation, the program will feature a network of 100 solar-powered bike rental and sharing stations with a fleet of 1,000 custom Deco Bikes. Coverage is city-wide in Miami Beach with stations from South Beach to North Beach, accessible 24 hours per day. Access is easy enough, with a credit card or membership card and options for length of rental. Bicycles can be returned when a user is done, to any station in the city. The process is quick, easy and affordable — and already attracted the interest of enthusiasts.
“Great, just great…I can’t wait,” said local resident Juan Estes. “I love to bicycle around the beach but I have to haul my bike downstairs from my apartment all the time. I’d much rather just head out and rent one and be able to do my thing and return it when done.”
The environmental appeal is also key.
“Hey, even the stations are environmentally friendly so that’s cool,” Estes said. “Biking is so much healthier for people and for the environment. I’m not like Mr. Green. But this is a very easy way to help yourself and the community at the same time. And it’s fun.”
Weithorn has had the opportunity to try out the actual Deco Bikes and said they are good quality, sturdy models and that they are the type specifically amenable to use for casual biking around the city.
“They’re very well designed and the seats are even reasonably comfortable,” Weithorn said. “Plus they have big baskets, which is really nice.”
When Deco Bike does begin operation, it will have been after a very long and costly process. Ramirez said that the company has invested close to $4 million in the program to date and that it has been in development for two and a half years.
“It’s going to be a big system and Miami Beach is perfect for it, with such great weather,” Ramirez said. “We see it as being profitable over five years.”
Deco Bike was the City’s selection after a Request for Proposal was issued. In return for providing spaces for the stations and supervision and assistance from police and other city services, Miami Beach will receive a portion of Deco Bike revenue. All employees are private sector, however.
“To me, this is the right kind of situation because the private sector is doing it, and not us,” Weithorn said.
A well-known fiscal hawk, Weithorn said that her support for Deco Bike is not about the financial angle.
“Everyone assumes it is, but we’re talking about a little bit of money — really it is a quality of life issue,” she said.
Ramirez feels that one of the reasons Deco Bike was selected as the city’s partner for the shared bike program is the company’s willingness to customize the program, kiosks at stations and even the bicycles themselves.
“We know the city is very focused on the cosmetic,” Ramirez said. ‘Deco Bike’ is exclusive to Miami Beach. Should the company partners launch a program in another city, it would be under a different name.
“This is distinctively Miami Beach,” Ramirez said.
For more information on Deco Bike, visit www.decobike.com.