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Rental E-bikes hit the streets in Boise

A row of Vall-ebikes in blue bike stands waiting to be ridden.
Troy Oppie
Boise State Public Radio

The Vall-ebike pilot program is underway in Boise and riders can find 50 gleaming white electronic-assist bikes spread across about a dozen racks in and around downtown. If you’ve used an e-scooter, the new bikes won’t be much different to rent.

The Vall-ebike program manager is Dave Fotsch, who also led the former Boise Greenbike program. Greenbike ran for about five years before it was discontinued a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new e-bike's similarities to the scooter rental process are purposeful, Fotsch said.

“In 2018 when the scooters came to town, they suddenly got a lot of ridership because it was so much easier for people to rent the scooters than the [Green]bikes.”

Riders can download the ‘Boise Vall-ebike’ app, (for Apple and Android) register with standard information and be ready to go. When you find a bike, you scan the QR code under the seat and the lock clicks open.

“You pedal, you get a boost, you feel like superman,” Fotsch quipped.

The bikes are single-gear and limited to 16 miles per hour, just like the scooters.

The battery-powered bikes are from a company called Dropbike. Valley Regional Transit is leasing the units and is only responsible for the program administration and upkeep. Fotsch said that means Dropbike is responsible for keeping up as the technology changes. The wheels are solid rubber, too.

“We spent so much time [with the Greenbike program] because of goatheads,” Fotsch laughed. “Without having to adjust gears and fix flats, maintenance should be relatively low.”

That’s important because right now, it’s just Fotsch and one other person running the 50-bike pilot program. They were still adding stickers to the bikes in front of Boise City Hall on Friday.

The bikes cost $1 to unlock and $0.15/mile. There are some subscriptions and half-day rates available, and discounts for existing City Go program users.

Fotsch said VRT is also trying to keep the program accessible to all users by offering a low-income rate as well. Users can apply for the special rate and upload photos of required documentation all through the app.

Having taken many e-scooter rides, I was more comfortable riding the e-bikes. I felt more in control and the ride was far less bumpy.

Troy on vall-ebike
Dave Fotsch
Valley Regional Transit

The power boost from the electronic motor was really nice, though I was caught a bit off guard when the pedal resistance went away as the bike reached its top speed. Even without resistance, you have to keep pedaling to keep the e-assist engaged.

“Every city that has adopted electric-assist shared bicycles, ridership has gone up three-four-five times [from] pedal-only bikes,” Fotsch said.

Boise joins cities like Atlanta and New Orleans with similar programs.

For now, the program is limited to Boise’s downtown, the Boise State campus and the North End. There’s a $2 surcharge if the units aren’t returned to a designated rack, which are clearly labeled within the app and many are the same as the Greenbike locations. That requirement satisfies the City of Boise's request that the bikes have a home when not in use without blocking sidewalks, driveways or other public throughways.

The Capital City Development Corporation put up the initial $50,000 dollar sponsorship and will match a new sponsor’s $50,000 too. Part of the agreement requires the majority of bikes to stay in urban renewal areas.

Fotsch is counting on enough Boiseans taking a ride to attract new sponsors so the program can add more bikes and widen its service area. He said the adding service up State Street is a priority, and there’s lots of interest from residents on the Boise Bench, but there’s no definitive next step.

“It all depends on sponsors," Fotsch said. Riders, too.

“The whole goal of the pilot is to demonstrate that people like this, that they will use it, and to show potential ‘big time’ sponsors the value in this.”

The pilot program runs through October.

Editor’s note: VRT is a financial supporter of Boise State Public Radio.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News. He's also heard Saturday nights on Boise State Public Radio Music's Jazz Conversations.