Internet bike rental company solves legal problem

BY PRU SOWERS

KONK LIFE STAFF WRITER

 

A case against a new, Internet-based bicycle rental company was dismissed at the April 27 code compliance hearing after the owners stopped using public property to store their bikes.

Sean Blaise, owner of Instabike Key West, had been cited by city code compliance officers in February for using city streets and sidewalks for the advertising or display of his new company, a violation that could have resulted in a $250 per day fine. Jim Young, Key West Code Compliance Office Director, said Instabike customers use a mobile phone application to find the closest location where a bike is locked, waiting to be rented. The user is then given a code to unlock the bike, which has a basket advertising the company.

“However, all the locations at that time were city [owned] bike racks,” Young said about the company, which has since moved all its bikes to a private rack. “Everybody thought it was a great idea. It was just the way they were doing it.”

Special Magistrate Donald Yates told Blaise to stop or be fined and Blaise moved his 25 bikes to a private bike rack at Sunset Pier. After city compliance officers checked to ensure that any Instabike in a city-owned rack was rented by a customer at that time, the company was found to be in compliance and the case dismissed.

The idea of automated bike rentals as well as “bike sharing,” where customers can use city-owned bikes for short trips – often for free – leaving the bike locked at their destination where another user can then pick up the bike, are getting a push from Chris Hamilton, the Key West Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator, who is working with city planners to create a bicycle master plan. Instabike Key West owners were interested in applying for a bike rental/sharing franchise in Key West as a way to solve their location problem. But any franchise bidding has to wait for the master plan to be completed, which is at least a year away, something Hamilton and City Manager Jim Scholl told Instabike’s Blaise when they met with him recently.

“We’re absolutely pro-bike and pro-innovation,” Hamilton said. “But automated bike rental doesn’t fit neatly into any existing categories the city has. What [Scholl] told them to do is wait.”

But that didn’t sit well with Instabike Key West, which has posted a petition on its Facebook page.

“We need your support! Tell the City that you don’t want to wait until 2017 or later for bike share to come to our island! The City has too many cars, we want to make it easier to get around so that people don’t have to drive. Support our petition and let your voice be heard,” the Instabike Facebook posting read.