Grid Bike Share Program Uses Van To Keep Bike Stations Balanced

By Annika Cline
Published: Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 4:16pm
Updated: Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 4:18pm
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(Annika Cline/ KJZZ News)
Grid Bike Share Operations Manager Giovanni Arico.

Grid Bike Share launched in November of last year, enabling Phoenicians to rent the apple-green bikes with that signature smiley face on the basket. Program officials say they’ve seen a steady increase in membership since the Super Bowl, with about 200 new members signing up each week.

So how do they make sure you get a bike when you want it, where you want it?

David Bickford uses Grid bikes for the little trips. 

"Like, to and from the train, or to go somewhere for lunch or something like that," he said.

So he’s always unlocking a bike at one Grid station and locking it up at another. And it’s worked out pretty well.

"I haven’t run into an empty station with no bikes at all and I haven’t run into a full station where I couldn’t leave my bike when I was done with it," Bickford said.

With people like Bickford constantly shuffling 300 bikes around the city, how do all 37 bike stations stay balanced?

The answer is a man with a van.

"We’re here at Civic Space Park doing a maintenance and balancing check of the bicycles at the hub here," said Giovanni Arico, the operations manager for Grid Bike Share.

That’s bike share speak for checking that the bikes work and making sure each station isn’t completely empty or full. The ideal is about 1.5 open racks for every parked bike. This station is already balanced, so we hop in the Grid van with extra bikes in tow. 

City Scape, a shopping and restaurant center downtown, is what Arico calls a “destination station.” That means more people are dropping bikes off than are picking them up. Grid tracks all of this movement with GPS units attached to the bikes.

"There are some other stations, too, that are kind of perplexing," Arico said. "Why people will ride bikes there and just leave them, and I’m not sure where they’re going after that."

That’s a mystery that Arico and his team hope to solve as they spend more time in the field. And they do spend quite a bit of time out here with the Grid van.

"We run this thing about 18 hours a day," Arico said.

That’s a lot of fuel used to keep these green bikes running. Granted, program officials estimate that in its first quarter, Grid Bike Share helped offset more than 11,000 pounds of carbon by getting people to bike instead of drive.

But they want to go completely green. Arico said the hope from the beginning was to use a fleet of electric-powered vehicles for maintenance, but they couldn’t just go with the standard Prius.

"The hardest part of this is the size of our service area and the distance you have to travel throughout the day," he said. "The technology just hasn’t caught up."

Now, four months after the program’s launch, Arico said they’re in talks with a company that could develop a new Grid van.

"And it seems like they’re going to be able to produce a system that’s going to work for us," Arico said. "It’s going to have battery packs that we can swap out so that we don’t have to wait for it to charge."

Until that happens, this solution will have to do, because Grid riders wait for no van.

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