WILKES-BARRE — Bicycles in the Wilkes-Barre BikeShare program were borrowed 550 times in 2012. And while program founder Gus Genetti says that makes for “a pretty good year,” he’s far from satisfied.
“We think it’s under promoted,” said Genetti, president of Genetti Hospitality Group, which includes the Best Western Genetti Hotel & Conference Center, out of which the BikeShare program is run.
Elise Dublin, Genetti’s corporate sales and catering manager, said there were an average of 68 free bike rentals per month last year. No rentals were made in December, January or February.
One of the ways Genetti would like to see the free program promoted more is to and through downtown employers, who could encourage their workers to ride on their breaks or after work and perhaps display brochures at their businesses that customers could see.
“And we have 30-some miles of trails that start three blocks from the hotel” on East Market Street, a easily accessible amenity for downtown residents, workers and visitors, Genetti said.
The restaurateur has even had entire bridal parties from weddings hosted in one of his ballrooms rent bikes. Others are regular users, who borrow bikes to go to and from work, he said.
The program is open to anyone 18 and older (16 when accompanied by a parent) who has a valid driver’s license or photo ID and a credit card. Nothing is charged to the credit card, “but if you lose a bike, we expect you to pay for it,” Genetti said, adding that the three-speed bikes are “pretty heavy duty” and retail for about $500.
The Wilkes-Barre Rotary Club is the official sponsor of the program and covers liability insurance. Genetti’s provides the manpower, storage space and some promotion. Around Town Bikes takes care of maintenance and repairs.
The program is administered by a committee consisting of representatives from Genetti’s, the Rotary, Around Town Bikes, the Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA and the Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Three-year sponsorships are sold for $1,000 and company logos are displayed on the bike baskets.
The bikes are available for free daylong rental thanks to all the volunteerism and the sponsorships.
Committee members are hoping the distribution of new, bigger brochures will help boost awareness, said Carol Hussa, of the YMCA. The committee secured a $1,500 Susquehanna Greenways Partnership Grant to cover the printing costs and the brochures are being printed now.
The new brochures include a map of the downtown and four suggested bike trail excursions.
“It’s an important piece of material for both visitors and people who live here and don’t quite know where the trails are,” she said.
Hussa said the committee is also in discussions with the downtown movie theater about displaying a large poster in the theater and plans on emailing posters to members of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry.
Merle Mackin, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau said the program also provides “the perfect opportunity to enjoy the riverfront.”
“The Downtown Business association and all the businesses should get behind it,” Mackin said. “We’ll do everything we can with the downtown businesses to promote it.”
Genetti said he got the idea for a free bike-sharing program after visits to Portland, Oregon, in 1996 and Amsterdam in 2010. Similar programs were in existence there.
The program in Wilkes-Barre has been successful because of the setup and community support. “The only thing we’re disappointed in is that we’re not getting more action from riders,” Genetti said.