Another South Jersey community jumped on the bicycling bandwagon Wednesday with a program to get residents pedaling free with a swipe of their smartphones.
Gloucester Township Mayor David R. Mayer and dignitaries cut a blue ribbon at a bike-share kiosk with 10 neatly lined up white bikes at a docking station. The site is only a few feet from a health and fitness trail that roughly parallels the Black Horse Pike.
"We're very excited about this program and hope it encourages residents to get outside and exercise," Mayer said.
The township used a $19,000 open-space grant from Camden County to purchase the bikes. There are bike-share programs in several neighboring communities, but the kiosk is the first of its kind in the county, and more may be added, officials say.
Gloucester Township joins a growing number of cities and suburban communities around the country that have launched bike-share programs to ease congestion and promote healthy lifestyles. Philadelphia, which started the Indego bike-share program in 2015, has 16 stations and 1,000 bikes, and was ranked as the 15th most bike-friendly city last year.
In 2016, bike-share riders nationally took 28 million trips, up 25 percent from the previous year, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. New York, Washington, Miami, Chicago, and Boston have the largest bike-share programs, which have become a popular low-cost transportation option for navigating city streets.
Starting with only one kiosk at Church Street and Washington Avenue, Gloucester Township is getting off to a modest start, but Mayer said more stations could be added to meet demand. The 24-square-mile community has about 70,000 residents and may be a little less bike friendly than cities that have miles of designated bike routes.
"They look pretty nice," said Alyssa Jones, 12, a soon-to-be eighth grader. "They remind me of a Cadillac."
The bikes, equipped with a six-gear shifter, have leather seats, a bell, brown leather grippers at the ends of the handlebars, and a basket attached to the rear for carrying small packages. User-friendly instructions are mounted at the docking station.
Unlike Philadelphia and other cities that charge a nominal fee, the Gloucester Township program is free. The bicycles are secured with Bluetooth-equipped solar-powered locks. Residents must download an app called Movatic on their smartphones and use a code to unlock a bike.
"I would love to ride the bike. It seems really great," said longtime resident Karen McLean, 52, who frequents the trail with her two children.
There is no time limit for rentals, except the bikes must be returned to the docking station by dusk. A credit card is required to ensure that the bike is returned.
Mayer said the bike kiosk is placed strategically along the three-mile fitness trail, which starts on Main Street near Grenloch Lake and ends at Landing Road. The township plans to eventually extend the path to Evesham Road, stretching the path to 4.4 miles that can be used by bicyclists and pedestrians, he said.
"It's a nice way for the community to come together, ride bikes, and get in shape," said Patrolman Charles DeWalt, 27, a member of the Police Department's bike patrol team, which logs about 10 miles two days a week. "We're all about wellness and staying in shape."
Mayer said he also hopes residents will use the bikes to ride to restaurants and businesses in the township, including the popular Gloucester Township outlets.