BLACKSBURG — As Rich Hopkins was about to step onto to the Huckleberry Trail off Miller Street, a row of several bicycles with bright orange frames grabbed his attention.
Hopkins briefly glanced at a sign on the curb in front of the racks that displayed instructions on how to use a service intended to give residents and visitors another way to travel across Blacksburg and Christiansburg.
“Obviously, I think it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s a wise addition to the Huckleberry.”
Roam New River Valley, the name of a municipally backed bike sharing service, launched about a week ago after being in the works for more than a year.
Hopkins, a Pembroke resident, didn’t check out a bike that day, but he said he knows what some of his fun plans will involve whenever he’s in Blacksburg in the future.
“Sometimes when going out, this is the nice way to go,” he said. “We’ll definitely try it out some time.”
Hopkins had stopped at one of 12 rack locations, also known as hubs.
The stations are concentrated in Blacksburg — mostly on or near the Virginia Tech campus — but two hubs exist in Christiansburg, one in front of the recreation center at the corner of North Franklin and Cambria streets and another at the New River Valley Mall near a section of the Huckleberry.
The town of Blacksburg spearheaded the procurement of the bike share and is directing funds toward the service. Gotcha, a South Carolina-based private transportation firm, provided the bikes and is managing the day-to-day operations.
A ceremony officially announcing the bike share is scheduled for Wednesday morning, during which the public will be invited to ride from the New River Valley Mall to downtown Blacksburg. The ride will start at 10 a.m., according an announcement Blacksburg sent out Friday.
Roam NRV was launched with the aid of a $200,000 startup grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. The grant required a $50,000 local match that is being divided among Blacksburg, Christiansburg and Tech.
Roam NRV is currently providing 75 bikes, according to Gotcha General Manager Allen McWhirt. Plans call for the later addition of 13 electrically assisted units, he said.
Riders need to download the Sobi app and create an account to use the bikes. They then find their network on the app.
Once registered, they can check out a bike by entering their six-digit account number and four-digit PIN on keypads installed on each of the bikes.
Riders can lock and leave a bike at any designated station in Blacksburg and Christiansburg. Additional fees are charged, however, if a rider locks a bike outside of a designated rack or outside of the system area.
More information on pricing and the service can be found at gotchabike.com/roamnrv/, but specific rates include $1 for 15 minutes, $10 for 24 hours and $20 for a month.
Roam NRV’s latest figures show 109 registrations, McWhirt said Thursday afternoon.
There are considerations to later expand the service between Blacksburg and Christiansburg, but that would require further study based on the success of the bike share, McWhirt said.
“That would be the ultimate goal. Initially we want to watch and see where these bikes go and how the community utilizes them,” he said. “The software allows us to follow the bikes and … it lets us know which hubs are being utilized the most, and which are used the least.”
Future plans could even involve moving hubs around, McWhirt said.
“In addition to that, there will be sponsorship opportunities for other community members to sponsor hubs on their properties, and that will be determined by their needs, wants and us being able to justify a number of bikes,” he said.
A bike share committee comprised of representation from the two towns and Tech has been formed to explore the service’s future plans and operations, McWhirt said.
Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith on Thursday shared an enthusiastic email from a recent Roam NRV rider.
Hager-Smith said the service can only boost local ecotourism, one of the attractions Blacksburg heavily promotes to residents and visitors.
“I think the most exciting thing for me is that it’s such a robust partnership,” she said, referring to the effort between the two towns, Tech and Montgomery County to obtain the service. “It’s unbelievable what a response we already had.”
The service also complements the ongoing expansion of the Huckleberry and recreational connections between Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Hager-Smith said.
“It is one more move in that direction, of course,” she said. “All of our activities for some time has been to do that.”