Will Jackson restart its bike-share program by next summer? 

Town officials are split on the next course of action in multi-modal transportation options.
Lime is just one company that provides e-bike shares around North America. (Stephen Rees/CC by 2.0)

by | Oct 30, 2023 | Transportation

This month, local leaders in transportation asked Jackson Town Council members if they were ready to restart the process of bringing back a bike-share program. But councilmembers said they want more research done before they consider looking into a new system.

Conceptually, I really like the idea, but I’m very concerned, ” Councilmember Jonathan Schechter said. “I don’t feel comfortable that we have the information we need to make sense of the policy issue.”

The council voted unanimously back in April to shutter the START bike-share program, which had been in place for five years. The software it had purchased would cease to support the app used to rent the bicycles and the staff member who managed the program took another job. 

So, this summer the town was without rentable bikes.


Teton County Regional Transportation Planning Administrator Charlotte Frei told the council that over the past five years more than 16,500 bike trips were taken, with roughly 3,000 rides each summer.

Sharing the cost

On Oct. 16, the town council revisited the future of a bike-share program. Frei brought research on bike-shares around the U.S. and proposed the town look into e-bikes share programs, the current standard for bike-shares across the country

She asked them to consider a public-private partnership, to help defer some of the costs.

Staff was directed to explore future alternatives,” Frei said. “We did find there’s only one bike-share program in the U.S. that currently operates without a subsidy, and that’s New York City. So these programs are, by and large, subsidized bike-sharing.” 

Frei said if the town hired a company to completely manage a bike-share program, the cost per ride would go up. But through a partnership, it could keep rider costs low. The town would pay roughly $50,000 annually to operate the program.

Some council members, like Schechter, had questions about the cost. 

“If we spend $50,000 bucks a year, what else could we be spending money on?” Schechter said. “I’m not opposed to it conceptually, but it feels to me that the key governance questions that we are facing are: What is success? How will we know?”

Katherine Dowson, executive director of Friends of Pathways, which helps promote sustainable transportation in Jackson, said a rideshare program doesn’t need to make money in order to be successful. And the town could look to donors or fundraising to help defray expenses.  

The fact that New York makes money on their bike-shares is because they are sponsored by a giant corporation, Citibank,” Dowson said. “It’s not surprising that bike-shares don’t make money. Buses generally don’t make money either. 

“I don’t think sidewalks have been monetized, but I’m not sure how many feet go on them, but they do cost money. So looking at your walking-biking infrastructure as money makers is wishful thinking, and it doesn’t really get to the higher level goal.”

– Katherine Dowson, executive director, Friends of Pathways

Dowson said Jackson was on the leading edge of multi-modal transportation options when it kicked off the bike-share program in 2018.

“We were innovators when we first had the bikes,” Dowson said. “We did get people on them. But we were in that interim zone and e-bikes came along and now you’re looking at more expensive bike-share programs, but with equipment that more people are willing to use. We still have a perfect bike-share town. It’s actually very flat.” 

Car-share confusion

Frei asked the council if she could begin the process of reaching out to vendors to see what bike-share options were out there. She also suggested looking into the potential for car sharing services down the line as a new way to get around Jackson. 

“Car sharing programs can support visitors and short-term residents who need access to a vehicle maybe just a few times a week or a few times a month,’” Frei said. “We could offer a year-round alternative for people who want to live car-free or car-light. There’s also an optional value for people whose car breaks down or you get into an accident and maybe you just need a car for a couple of weeks.”

But the car sharing proposal raised many questions from council members Schechter and Jim Rooks. 

“[What about] maintenance of the cars?” Rooks asked. “I work on cars. What’s it look like? What is the vendor responsible for? What happens if the cars don’t work?”

“I’m really struggling right now because it seems to me the larger policy question is: What are we trying to do vis-a-vis transportation and alternative transportation in particular?” Schechter said. “And then what are the metrics of success and how do we move that? How do we move toward that? And then further, how do we spend our money getting toward those goals? 

Schechter said he wanted more demographic data of who has used bike-shares in the past, and who would most benefit from car-shares. 

Frei previously told KHOL earlier this spring the past bike-share program was primarily used by visitors and J1 visa holders. She said she hopes e-bikes would be attractive to locals as well.

“Ultimately our goal [is] to encourage more people to walk, bike and use transit or carpool for short trips,” she said in April. “We know that bicycling is a really good option for trips that are like 2-3 miles, and then with an e-bike, the range extends to like 5-6 miles.”

At the Oct. 16 meeting, Frei asked the council to allow her to put out a request for proposal (RFP) to ride share companies across the U.S. to help better understand the town’s options. And once she had a number of proposals, council members could begin the process of considering what the next course of action will be. 

Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson and Councilmember Arne Jorgenson said they supported the move. 

“With this RFP, we get a lot more information without having our staff do the full research,” Morton Levinson said. 

Morton Levinson proposed splitting car sharing and bike-sharing into two different items. But ultimately the council voted to hold off on taking any action, for the time being, and continuing the discussion at a later date. 

Town Manager Tyler Sinclair said conversations around the future of bike and car sharing should also include County Commissioners and Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (SMART). 

“This is not a time-sensitive idea,” Sinclair said. “So [we could take] another two weeks or months to think about it.”

The staff draft RFP states a bike-share program “must launch” by June 1, 2024 — currently leaving Jackson officials with just eight months to come up with a new plan.

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About Tyler Pratt

Tyler has over a decade of experience as a jack-of-all-trades at public radio newsrooms across the U.S. He's a Columbia Journalism School alum with a passion for reporting on criminal justice, social justice, and LGBTQ+ issues. He loves New Orleans Saints football, dance floors, tasting new wines and trying out taco spots. Follow Tyler on Twitter @prattattak

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