ValleyBike Share working to fix teething troubles

NORTHAMPTON — ValleyBike Share was launched with great excitement and fanfare at the end of June. But, since then, a number of issues have arisen with the nascent pedal-assist bike program, from the pedal assist on the bikes not working, to issues with the website.

Still, Northampton Planning and Sustainability Director Wayne Feiden said the issues the program has experienced were expected and are being dealt with.

“They’re all things we’d expect,” said Feiden. “It’s a huge system.”

ValleyBike is a program that involves a partnership among the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the University of Massachusetts, and the municipalities of Northampton, Amherst, South Hadley, Springfield and Holyoke. The vendor for the program, who is also in charge of technical support, is Bewegen Technologies, while physical upkeep of the bikes and stations is being done by Core Logistics.

Those utilizing ValleyBike can either pay for single rides or memberships that allow them to use the program’s pedal-assist bikes.

Feiden cited two technical issues, one involving bike stations not being powered and another involving the pedal-assist function on the bikes.

On the stations, Feiden said that although most of them are open, only about two-thirds of them are powered currently.

On the pedal assist, Feiden said the issue is with the firmware that gets the electric motor for the pedal assist to turn on. He said that currently about 80 percent of the bikes have pedal assist that works while 20 percent do not, but that the issue is being dealt with. He also said that when he finds a bike with a non-working pedal assist, he switches it out.

“You can tell within literally two seconds,” said Feiden.

Popular program

Feiden and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz also said that ValleyBike has been transparent about issues with the program in its social media engagement.

“They’ve been very forthright about it,” said Narkewicz.

“They really want the system to work,” said Feiden.

In an email sent to members last week, the program acknowledged technical problems and extended the memberships of those who have enrolled in the program. It also provided them with a free ride credit to extend to friends in August, and said that the pedal-assist issue, which it said was due to inconsistencies with the motor on the bikes, would be fixed within the next few weeks.

“Thank you again for your understanding, support, patience, and most importantly, your feedback,” said ValleyBike, in the closing of the email.

The message to members also pointed out the popularity of the program, saying that more than 4,400 trips and more than 7,600 miles have been ridden since launch.

“That’s like a bike ride from Holyoke to Seattle and back, then up to Toronto, then back to UMass, then over to Boston and back,” said the email.

Feiden said that the fear with the issues in the system is that it could turn off people early on. However, he also said they will not be there in the future.

“It’s getting better every day,” said Feiden.

Feiden said that he is still getting interest from neighborhoods to expand the program into them. Additionally, Narkewicz said that Easthampton has expressed an interest in joining the system, and that he recently wrote a letter of support to back this.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

Author: Going Green

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