By Kevin Collison
E-bikes are scheduled to begin rolling into greater downtown by Christmas, making Kansas City one of only a handful of North American communities to adopt the latest in “first and last mile” shared transportation technology.
“E-bikes are really new, especially for shared use, and Kansas City is in the forefront of this,” said Eric Vaughan business director of BikeWalkKC.
“You’ll see more and more cities adopting electric bikes.”
The easy-to-use bikes feature a 300 watt battery-powered motor that helps boost cyclists up steep inclines and over longer distances. They have a range of up to 30 miles and top speed of 20 mph.
Eric Rogers, the executive director of BikeWalkKC, said they’re a perfect complement to the B-Cycle program his organization has run since 2012. B-Cycle features conventional bicycles at docking stations throughout the city.
“One thing we found in Kansas City is the terrain is pretty hilly,” Rogers said.
“If you want to go from the Power & Light District to the Plaza, there are some big hills. The terrain is a barrier for anybody.”
The e-bike responds to the pedaling of its riders, providing an assist when needed. It only operates when you’re pedaling and riders slow or stop using the same hand brakes as a conventional bicycle.
“They’re built for riders of all shapes, sizes and skill levels,” Vaughn said. “You just adjust the seat level.”
The e-bikes being introduced in Kansas City are operated by Drop Mobility of Toronto. The first 40 are due to be delivered by Christmas and will be located in the greater downtown area at existing B-Cycle stations.
A total of 150 ultimately will be deployed by March. As opposed to electric scooters, e-bikes should be checked out and returned to designated areas. Riders are charged extra if they park their e-bikes away from those specified locations.
To use an e-bike, a rider must download the app from Drop Mobility. The user then scans the QR code to unlock the bike. After returning it to a designated location the rider than locks the bike with its supplied cable and submits a photo to end the trip.
While a final cost for using the e-bikes hasn’t been determined, the current estimate is $2 for the first 20 minutes and 10 cents per minute after. B-Cycle members are expected to receive credits toward rental, an annual membership is $65.
The e-bikes also differ from scooters because they’ll be available 24/7. Each features a light, bell and kickstand. When a battery runs down, it can be swapped out quickly by a technician.
Rogers said this is Drop Mobility’s first e-bike program anywhere and it chose Kansas City in part because of the cooperation between BikeWalkKC and RideKC, the metropolitan bus system run by the KC Area Transportation Authority.
The closest city to Kansas City to have an e-bike sharing program is Cincinnati. Other cities with the program are Washington D.C., New York City, Austin, Birmingham and Los Angeles.
BikeWalkKC anticipated about a third of the e-bike users will be bus passengers using them for first and last mile travel. The next largest group are expected to be visitors to the city with the remainder being downtown residents.
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