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RVA Bike Share shutdown could be a 'wakeup call,' advocate says

Posted at 6:08 PM, May 23, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond transportation advocate and writer Wyatt Gordon got a text from a friend on Sunday about the RVA Bike Share system.

Gordon's Twitter post that followed was one of the first public signs something was amiss with the program.

"He came up [to the terminal] and tapped his fob and nothing was working and could not figure out what was going wrong. So, immediately he went on the website and saw where there was a notice that the whole system had been shut down," Gordon said.

RVA Bike Share, where residents and visitors can unlock bicycles to travel throughout the city for a fee, is suspended indefinitely.

City officials said the Canadian company that operates the software component of the system gave Richmond little notice that there would be shutdown.

"Due to a last-minute, two-day notice and shutdown by Bewegen Technologies, the city was forced to suspend the current bicycle rental system until a new software system is in place," a spokesperson for the City of Richmond wrote in an email. "Bicycles will not be available to rent while the City secures a new contractor. In the meantime, the City encourages bike share users to utilize the three e-scooter vendors - Bird, Lime, and Spin."

There were reports last month in other cities, both in the U.S. and overseas, that company was undergoing bankruptcy.

On social media, Bewegen called those reports last month "fake news."

The company did not respond to a request for comment on the situation in Richmond.

"It's never a good feeling when you go to access a system, and it just doesn't work for you, and you have no idea that that was going to happen," Gordon said. "I think that was a real mistake on the city's part to not be more proactive, like in other cities like Raleigh, and kind of give residents the information that this was going to be shutting down, it's beyond their control."

In recent years, the Office of Equitable Transit and Mobility worked directly with the program to expand where the docks are located in the city.

The focus has turned to placing them closer to neighborhoods, libraries, and pools, with a specific focus on public housing.

Gordon has written on the need to make the bike share system more accessible and said the expansion was beginning to show how it could possibly be utilized as a tool for daily transit.

"You were kind of seeing the bike share system become useful for the first time in its life. So, it's such a shame that, not the city's fault, this is kind of the rug was pulled out from under them on this program," Gordon said.

Using this moment as an impetuous for change, Gordon said, could benefit the program as a whole, and Richmond offiicals do not have to look far to see a model he thinks is very successful.

“I think this shutdown needs to be a wake-up call for the city to convert this into a nonprofit: the way it functions in Washington, DC," Gordan said. "The Capital Bikeshare system is hugely successful there. Every single dollar that goes into the system goes towards improvements, and you don't get that when you rely upon a third party operator. Clearly, from the shutdown we've seen, relying on a third party can lead to a huge disaster.”

City leaders said they are working to find a new software vendor for RVA Bike Share and appreciate patience from users during the "transitional phase." Once that happens, the city plans to offer free rides for 30 days.

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