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mBike arrives in University Park as Hyattsville also considers contract

HyattsvilleMunicipalBuildingHYATTSVILLE – Bike lovers in Hyattsville may have reason to rejoice as the city now considers hosting two different bikes shares as nearby University Park signs on to mBike.

Although the installation of Capital Bikeshare stations is a little less than a year away in Hyattsville, the city’s council is considering also buying into the mBike system currently used in College Park and, now, University Park.

Just last month, on May 19, the Town of University Park held a site launch to celebrate the expansion of the mBike system in tandem with the City of College Park, the University of Maryland and Zagster, Inc.

Now, Hyattsville is also considering signing on to College Park’s contract with Zagster to bring mBike to the “world within walking distance.”

“This isn’t just about providing bikes,” said Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. “This is to be able to connect the commercial activity in our area.”

The proposal was before the council on June 5 as a discussion item where the council debated the merits of signing onto a bike share program on a trial basis. Jim Chandler, the city’s assistant administrator, said Hyattsville had the opportunity to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with College Park to “piggy back” onto the city’s agreement with Zagster.

Chandler said mBike is different from Capital Bikeshare, which is expected in the city next spring through a Prince George’s countywide installation, in that mBike is an ownership-based system where the city would have to buy the bikes.

The city set aside funds in its budget, as one of the council’s priorities, to pay for such an installation. At the same time, Chandler said College Park, through the MOU, would also assist heavily in covering the costs.

“The City of College Park is agreeable to extending the balance of a grant that they have to pay a sizable portion of the total cost for bringing a system to Hyattsville over a 20-22 month period,” Chandler said.

That grant balance totals $92,000, which is a large percentage of the estimated $160,535 it would cost to launch a 22-month beta of the mBike system. Hyattsville would have to pay approximately $68,000 to cover the rest of the costs for a 40-bike system with four stations. If the council approves the MOU, installation would take up to 60 days.

The duration of the trial period is capped at 20-22 months based on College Park’s contract with Zagster, which would end in June 2019. After that period, Hyattsville would then have the choice of continuing with the bike share company to the tune of $207,000 for a 36-month lease term or abandoning the system and turning the bikes over to the University of Maryland. The life cycle of the bikes is three years.

“The costs at this point are non-negotiable. College Park has offered us a very generous grant to pay a sizable portion. I don’t believe we’re going to see a better deal than what’s in front of you today,” Chandler said.

Hollingsworth pointed out the cost differences between the two bike share companies, noting that mBike is more expensive than Capital Bikeshare and that for one the costs are capital while for the other they are operational.

Still, she said, the money would not only be used to bring mBike to the city, but to also connect Hyattsville with the towns and cities to the north, effectively connecting the commercial corridor and bringing consumers down to Hyattsville.

“Capital Bikeshare, when it is implemented, because we are part of the first phase, that will be primarily south to north traffic. As in from D.C to here,” she said. “And that expands the market tremendously but there is also a market north of us.”

She said the city is in at an “odd but interesting position” where it has the opportunity to see how both bike share programs function without outrageous costs to the city.

At the same time, some members of the council said they are hesitant to buy into both systems, especially considering the costs of mBike.

Edouard Haba, the council’s president, said he is not completely sold on buying into mBike when the county is so close to bringing Capital Bikeshare to the area.

“It’s not a surprise to anyone about how I feel and think about the two-bike share system,” he said. “I’m still not sold on the fiscal responsibility or fiscal viability of these options here – spending $75,000 just to test something out when we know that in a matter of eight months, the less expensive systems will be in the city.”

Haba pointed out that Capital Bikeshare will extend into College Park and more northern areas of the county soon after the initial implementation in Hyattsville and said he did not feel it was wise for the city to spend money on a second system to do the same thing.

In contrast, Councilman Thomas Wright said he thinks the contract with mBike is a good opportunity that is “not a super high investment.”

“I mean, we’ve paid more money for surveys and this way we’re getting actual data to be collected,” he said.

Councilwoman Shani Warner she is eager to move forward with the mBike contract, though she said, she wishes “everything was Capital Bikeshare” and that the city did not have to choose to contract with two competing systems. However, she thinks the investment is worth it.

“Strengthening the ties between our community and this major, nearby research institution, I think, is so crucial to the future of Hyattsville and the quality of life in Hyattsville,” she said.

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