Richmond bikeshare program rides again with Charleston Mobility

Richmond bikeshare program rides again with Charleston Mobility
Photos credited to Bolt Mobility.

By Kathy Chouteau

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Richmond’s first-ever bikeshare program is getting a second life thanks to some serious hustle by City staff.

In a special meeting Fri., Aug. 19, the Richmond City Council approved a contract with Charleston Mobility, Inc., to manage the operations needed to relaunch, evaluate and scale the City’s bikeshare system, according to Mayor Tom Butt in his E-Forum.

The bikeshare program will be relaunched via a three-phase process, per info provided by the mayor. Phase one will see the relaunch of the bikeshare program while it is evaluated amid a maximum dispersal of 100 bikes; phase two will see locations added and the total number of bikes rise to 300, while additional funding is sought for the next phase; and phase three will lay the groundwork for “a long-term sustainability plan” for the service.

The new contract followed the sudden shutdown of the program by previous City partner, Bolt Mobility (Bolt), a company co-founded by Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt that had gone out of business “without prior notification or removal of their capital equipment from city property,” per the mayor’s announcement in July 2022. At the time the mayor said Bolt had missed a monthly check-in meeting with City personnel and had been unresponsive to their clients throughout all of their markets.

Launched in the summer of 2021 via a $1 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the City’s then-partnership with Bolt had seen the dispersal of a fleet of 250 electric-assist e-bikes at locations throughout Richmond.

Following the sudden shutdown of Bolt, Mayor Butt said in his E-Forum that the Institute for Local Government notified him in early August that Richmond had been selected for its Beacon Leadership and Innovation Awards for its “electric bikeshare program that provides residents with a low-cost clean transportation option to reduce citywide carbon emissions.” The award will be given to the City at the League of California Cities annual conference that starts Sept. 7, 2022, in Long Beach, Calif.

“Imagine how embarrassed I would have been to accept an award for a project that no longer existed, although its demise was no fault of the City,” said the mayor.

That’s when the mayor said his office and City staff “circled the wagons and found a solution” to resurrecting Richmond’s bikeshare program. He said the City’s original contract for the bikeshare program occurred in 2020 with Gotcha Ride, LLC, later acquired by Bolt Mobility Corporation in 2021. The City reached out to Gotcha’s Founder David Touwsma, who the mayor said originally supplied the bikes and “still had the software to unlock and service them.” Touwsma then consulted with the City on the three-phase process for reviving the bikeshare program.

“Through a remarkable collaboration of Transportation Services Project Manager Denee Evans, Interim Director of Library and Community Services LaShonda White, City Manager Shasa Curl, the City Attorney’s Office and The Mayor’s Office, we have set a plan in motion to revive the bikeshare system,” via the new contract with Charleston Mobility, Inc., said the mayor.

Lean more about the background of the bikeshare program here.