The city’s new bikeshare system allows residents and visitors to see the community through a new, two-wheeled perspective.
Written by Lindsey Osborne
Photos by Beau Gustafson
Imagine a city that’s not only friendly to those who cruised it on two wheels, but one that even promoted it. Imagine a city where tourists could easily get around on a day out without needing a cab. Imagine a city where any of us could hop on a bike and, well, zip around. Birminghamians, that city is yours. In October of 2015, Zyp BikeShare (an initiative of REV Birmingham) launched in Birmingham as North America’s first electric pedal assist bikeshare fleet.
The idea for a bikeshare program in Birmingham has been in the works for more than three years. Lindsey West, now the director of Zyp BikeShare, as well as the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, proposed the idea of a bikeshare program in Birmingham. “They were noticing other cities were coming on board with bikesharing systems, but knew that it wasn’t necessarily the correct time for Birmingham,” explains West. However, when West attended a conference in San Antonio, Texas, in 2013 and experienced such a program in action, she became convinced it would work here and, as West says, “the journey to find funding began.”
Shortly thereafter, a nine-month feasibility study and plan was put into place. Largely because of REV’s commitment, progress happened steadily from there. By April 2015, a vendor had been chosen, sponsors and funding were secured, and West was hired by REV as the Zyp BikeShare director. The program premiered just a few months later; in addition to West, Zyp boasts a staff of eight other people.
So how does it work, exactly? Currently, there are 30 kiosks with 300 bikes spread throughout the city (including in downtown, Avondale, Titusville, Five Points South, and Highland Park). Residents and visitors can access the kiosks to rent a bike 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can become an annual member for $75 a year or pay $6 for the day ($20 a week). You do have to check your bike back in to a kiosk every 45 minutes. “Every user receives 45 minutes per checkout included in their membership, but have unlimited checkouts. This means an individual can check out a bike, return it within the 45 minutes to any other station, and immediately undock a bike again,” West explains. “The bikes just need to ‘check-in’ to the system every 45 minutes, which prevents people from keeping it in their office or loft all day—we want as many bikes available for users as possible.”
Symes says that one of the challenges of a bikeshare program in Birmingham was our terrain—hilly and mountainous with a distinct lack of bike lanes, it doesn’t seem to be an easy feat to get around in some parts of the city. “That’s where the electric pedal assist technology came to the table,” West says. With the electric pedal assistance, you can take Birmingham’s hills like they’re nothing. The program is the first pedal-assist bikesharing system in the Western Hemisphere and only the fifth in the world. “Birmingham has been put on the map as a leader in the bikesharing community. With that comes added exposure and excitement—creating a culture shift,” West says. “Birmingham has amazing scenery and history, and experiencing that on two wheels gives it a whole new perspective.”
The effects of the system will certainly be seen long-term, but so far, it’s been a raging success. In its first four weeks, Zyp experienced more than 10,000 checkouts by 1,600 members and had more than 300 annual members. The most popular check-out and check-in stations are those located at Railroad Park, Regions Field, and Pepper Place, but you can see people taking the city by storm on green bikes throughout the metro area. “You cannot underestimate the impact of vibrancy, of seeing people moving about the city and enjoying their community,” Symes says. “It produces a cultural effect felt by many. We have always seen BikeShare as an economic development tool. It draws in new visitors, encourages workers and residents to explore the city, and delivers customers to the doors of Birmingham businesses. For community health, biking offers up an easy activity that can have incredibly positive effects on our residents’ wellbeing.”
Zyp is excited about its future, with plans to expand to 40 kiosks and 400 bikes by the spring of this year. The program has funding for five years with maturing revenue streams, but West says there will always be a need for sponsors. Additionally, the team at Zyp is working with REV and the city to move toward a more bike-friendly city all around. “Becoming a bike-friendly community is a priority. It’s been shown that other cities making bike/pedestrian investments lends to a more vibrant and livable city, and there are major economic benefits to having this type of community,” West says. “It’s certainly a process, but Birmingham has made the commitment to its residents and visitors on this front. We are working closely with the city on future bike lanes, safety education, and the overall benefits of biking.” In an effort to make the system available to more people, Zyp is also working on subsidy and equity membership options.