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Planning Director Lee Pouliot met with the City Council on April 16 to discuss ValleyBike returning.
Reminder Publishing screen capture by Tyler Garnet

NORTHAMPTON — After several months of laying idle, the regional ValleyBike Share program will make its return at the end of May.

The city of Northampton, the lead community of the program, announced via a press release that it selected Drop Mobility as the new vendor for the program.

The announcement comes after the city’s Office of Planning and Sustainability spent the last few months searching for a vendor who can operate the existing bike share system for a three-year contract term. The search was done through a request for proposals process that began late last year.

“We are so excited to be able to relaunch this transportation system in the valley for all communities and we look forward to forging new and expanded partners who will join the system and participate in its success,” said Carolyn Misch, Northampton’s director of planning and sustainability. “Participating communities have worked hard both in this selection process as well as in engaging our regional legislators to help us brainstorm about funding options for the future.”

The official selection of Drop Mobility comes one year after ValleyBike Share program halted because Bewegen Inc., the prior vendor, could no longer meet its contract obligations as the program’s main service provider.
Northampton attempted to renegotiate a short-term contract with Bewegen in early 2023 after the provider notified the city that it was initiating bankruptcy proceedings in its home country of Canada in hopes of dissolving existing contracts with its bike share communities around the world. The hope was to reopen for its users that summer.

That, however, did not happen.

“We know that bike share is a critical component of our transportation system in the valley for all communities, and we want to ensure that we take steps to guarantee a long and uninterrupted service for our residents,” Misch said last summer. “Participating communities agreed that the best way forward would be to open a competitive procurement process to select a bike share partner with more financial stability and better terms for our communities.”

According to the city, Drop Mobility was selected as the new vendor for their “deep understanding of micro mobility” as an important component of the region’s transportation system and for their experience in rescuing and operating e-assist bike shares across the country.

“We are ecstatic that we have found a vendor that shares our commitment to making bike share a successful transportation mode which will further our sustainability goals to encourage options for people to travel and commute,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra in a statement. “I am so grateful to Director Misch for her tireless commitment to restarting the program and for the collaboration with our partner communities. We look forward to this next phase of ValleyBike Share, and to expanding to more communities.”

According to Misch, all the communities in the program found grants and other one-time sources of funding to help relaunch the system and they will continue to work with state, regional and federal partners to find sustainable funding for future years.

Currently, Northampton, Amherst, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Chicopee, Easthampton, Hadley, Holyoke, Springfield, South Hadley and West Springfield all participate in the ValleyBike Share program, which officially began in the region in 2018.

At Chicopee’s City Council meeting on April 16, Mayor John Vieau and Planning Director Lee Pouliot met with the council to discuss the appropriation of $24,250 to the Planning Special Account for ValleyBike Annual Membership fee to help repair the city’s bikes.

Pouliot said the funds being moved into the account will be used to repair the bikes that have been sitting for two years to ensure they are safe and roadworthy. Chicopee is starting with “essentially” zero funds in the bank because they first must program the rest of the bond funds.

He added, “When the operator went bankrupt last year, the membership quickly moved. We secured the bond funds from our bankrupt entity and their contract to assist us and immediately started planning for the program’s future. We all agreed that the balance funds we have on hand will be used to fund those repairs so we need operation funds until revenue is generated by the system.”

Vieau talked about the appropriation and the reintroduction of ValleyBike.

He said, “We’re trying to reintroduce our bike share here in Chicopee. It’s no secret that the company that was providing service to us had gone bankrupt and our goal was to get our bike share as part of Pioneer Valley’s plan and we’re hopeful to use the mass gaming transportation planning grants to pay for these funds, but we need to fund it up front.”

Pouliot said that there was nothing wrong with the system or ValleyBike and it was the vendor that went bankrupt. The program was generating revenue to sustain itself.

He added, “From that respect and from the experiences that our other member communities have from the ValleyBike program, it was a rather safe system and people obeyed the rules and operated their bikes appropriately. We did not see many major issues. We know from the data that we have that ValleyBike was incredibly successful. We’ve been committed to this consortium of communities, and I don’t want to see us be the gap between Springfield and the remainder of the system.”

All the communities also had to sign a revised memorandum of understanding before a contract could be executed with Drop Mobility.

According to the city of Northampton, there are 750 e-assist bicycles and 79 station locations with dock/charge points throughout the communities. In the RFP, the city said the new vendor will “maintain, develop and enhance” ValleyBike by using these existing assets.

Chicopee currently has three stations installed including one on Front Street near City Hall, one in Williamsett at Rivers Park and one at the end of Front Street by Dunkin’ Donuts near Uniroyal.

There are also plans to install more stations as funds become available, according to Pouliot.

“The new vendor has a different business model, and we think that we will have much more success with the new vendor,” said Stephanie Ciccarello, the sustainability coordinator for Amherst.

According to its website, Drop Mobility supports municipal organizations like transit agencies, nonprofit bike share operators, urban planners, campus administrators, mobility enthusiasts and other community stakeholders who want to bring sustainable micro mobility to constituents.

“Drop Mobility is excited to work with the communities within the Pioneer Valley to relaunch and expand the ValleyBike Share system, where we plan to both revive existing bikes and equipment and bring in the latest Drop hardware and software solutions,” shared Dipesh Dar, co-founder and COO of Drop Mobility. “Building long-term and sustainable bike share is at the core of what we do, and we are proud to power the next chapter of e-bike share in the Pioneer Valley.”

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