Local News

Woodstock shuns e-scooter company after seeing little bike rental interest

Visit McHenry County’s bike rental program, which serves several cities, hopes to gain ridership post-pandemic

A pitch by the electric scooter rental company Bird Rides to operate a fleet of the vehicles in Woodstock gained almost no interest Tuesday evening among city officials, who cited, in part, what they felt was low usage of an existing bicycle rental program.

Mayor Mike Turner was the only member of the Woodstock City Council who was open to the scooter idea, but the rest of the elected body was against letting the company start a local pilot.

“They’re interesting things. They work really well,” said Turner, who said he has ridden e-scooters in Milwaukee and Tempe, Arizona, where his child attended college. “They can be a bit of a hazard at times. And they can be a bit of a public nuisance when they’re strewn around the sidewalks.”

He wanted to learn more about local public opinion and whether residents might be receptive to the idea.

But the rest of the council was against moving forward with letting Bird test out Woodstock’s market for its vehicles, with some of the council members questioning if there was a demand for them after viewing the participation data in a countywide bicycle rental program called bikeMC.

“I think it’s a waste of our time at the moment,” council member Bob Seegers said.

The bikeMC program is financed through partnerships between several area cities, the McHenry County government and Visit McHenry County, a nonprofit that receives public funding to market the county as a tourist destination.

Between May and October, the Woodstock bikeMC dock at the city’s Metra station saw 27 rides, according to the city.

“How do they think there is a market here for this?” Woodstock council member Wendy Piersall said of the Bird proposal.

Six bikeMC stations are located throughout McHenry County, each containing five bicycles – except for the station at Visit McHenry County’s Huntley office, which currenly has just four after one was stolen and vandalized. It will be replaced through the contract with the bike rental software vendor, Visit McHenry County President and CEO Jaki Berggren said.

Bikes can be rented through a smartphone app for $2 an hour or users can pay a $15 annual membership and get trips lasting up to four hours anytime with no extra charge, Berggren said. McHenry County College students can always ride free.

The other four stations are in downtown Crystal Lake, on the McHenry County College campus, at the Fort McHenry park along the Prairie Trail in McHenry, and at The Dole in Crystal Lake.

Berggren is in the process of scheduling a meeting with officials of the other organizations involved in funding the bicycle rental program to discuss its future. It was started in 2019 with a vendor called Zagster, but then it was not launched again in 2020 because of the pandemic and Zagster stopped operating last year, Berggren said.

“I’m not a huge fan of or supporter of a scooter program in McHenry County. I don’t think we’re the right venue for it,” Berggren said.

The bike rental program was restarted this year with a company called Koloni that licenses the software to run the bikes, which were brought in for the cold season earlier this month, Berggren said. Visit McHenry County puts about $10,000 total toward the contract with Koloni for its services and a deal with the Bike Haven, a bike shop that helps maintain and store the bikes.

The county government chips in another $10,000, Berggren said, and each municipality and organization with a station pays $1,325 for its dock, Berggren said.

Berggren said she thinks if the bike rental program can continue, the bikes could prove to be more useful than scooters would.

There is a chance it will be more popular after the COVID-19 pandemic is under better control and more people are comfortable traveling to McHenry County on the train, she said. Those visitors might decide to use the bikes to cruise around.

“They may or may not come out in 2022. It all depends on the wrap-up meeting,” she said, adding that other changes, such as new station locations, could be implemented to see if the popularity of the rentals is boosted.

McHenry’s decision to move its dock from the city’s Metra station in 2019 to Fort McHenry this year proved fruitful, as it went from being one of the least used to the most heavily used this year, recording more than half of the program’s total rides supplied at 113.

A total of 216 bike rentals were made across the county for the bikeMC program this year, Berggren said, with 56 from the downtown Crystal Lake station. The Woodstock station was the only other that recorded more than 20. The MCC station saw the most rides where the bike was returned to a different station than the one it was rented from, with most of those cross-station rides ending at the Crystal Lake location.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.