For systems operated by a public agency or public-private partnership, once the contracts are
signed, the timeline for implementation will be contingent on procurement and installation of
the hardware and the procurement or development of the software. Vélib’ and Ecobici took six
months to implement. New York City’s bikeshare took two years, in part because of a contractual
problem between the system’s operator and the subcontractor developing the software.
8.2.1 SOFT LAUNCH
Two to three months prior to the official launch, the city should begin conducting community
outreach and membership drives to help educate customers on how to use the system and
to prepare drivers to be aware of these new users. A good communications strategy that
builds excitement and support prior to the system’s opening will help mitigate problems
during the launch. For example, prior to launching in 2015, Philadelphia’s bikeshare system
laid “coming soon” stickers on the sidewalk where stations were going to be placed. Similarly,
Atlanta’s Relay system set up virtual hubs where users could return bikes before all of the
stations were implemented.
A soft launch or demonstration period of the bikeshare system can be invaluable in generating:
Users can see first-hand how the system will work and get a feel for the process of checking a
bicycle in and out. Soft launch users can also identify potential usability issues or common
questions the city should address prior to the actual launch.
Test Run of Hardware and Software
The operator has an opportunity to try out the hardware and software, with informed
personnel from each system on hand to answer questions and work out any potential issues.
A soft launch serves as a positive media event that could generate continued coverage leading
up to the actual launch.
8.2.2 THE LAUNCH
The official system launch should be a high-profile event framed to the press and the public as a
victory for the city, and featuring appearances by important city officials and even local celebrities.
The goal of the event should be to make potential new customers aware of the program and
should underscore the idea that bikeshare is available to and can work for all city residents.
Customer service, before and after opening, will be critical to the success of the system. The
system will need to have ways for users to register, make payments, and issue complaints or
notices of defective equipment, and it must have a point of sales for buying subscriptions and
a hotline for user inquiries. Following the launch of Atlanta’s Relay bikeshare, volunteer
ambassadors set up tables at community events to encourage registration and help users
navigate the system’s mobile app.
From the day the bikeshare system is launched, it will be evaluated on whether it is meeting,
exceeding, or falling below the goals it promised to achieve. Those goals should have been
articulated in service-levels agreements between the implementing agency and the operator.
As described in subsection 6.4.1, the service levels need to be realistic at the outset, and if the
operator is not achieving them, it must be determined whether the operator is failing to meet
the service levels because of negligence or unrealistic expectations.
Flexibility and communication between the operator and the city are essential. While the main
operational measures will be established in the tender and contract, service levels may need
to be readjusted or refined so the operator is continuously incentivized to innovate and excel
in areas where resources can create the greatest change or benefit to the user and the system
as a whole. If this does not happen, the operator may focus limited resources on service levels
that are impossible to achieve, minimizing loss instead of creating potential growth. Open
communication is critical.
This is a complicated matter to handle contractually, as any leeway in the written agreement
could be exploited by either party. One recommendation is to agree to a mediated review of
the service levels six months into the operator’s contract. This mandates that the two parties
sit down and discuss the service levels, while a third party makes sure the outcome is fair.