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Contract for Central Park Bike-Rental Vendor Up for Grabs

By Emily Frost | September 22, 2015 6:05pm
 The Parks Department is issuing a new RFP for the bike rental vendor contract currently operated by Bike and Roll.
The Parks Department is issuing a new RFP for the bike rental vendor contract currently operated by Bike and Roll.
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The city contract for a bike-rental vendor serving major parks in Manhattan and Brooklyn is coming up for grabs, according to the Parks Department.

The department is issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for a bike-rental company this October and expects to have the operator in place by the spring, when the current contract expires, according to Alex Han, deputy director of concessions for the agency.

For the past six years, Bike and Roll has held the contract, making it the only city-approved vendor permitted to rent bikes on Parks Department property.

Despite competition from illegal bike-rental vendors and Citi Bike, Bike and Roll increased its revenue by 54 percent between the 2013-2014 season and its 2014-2015 fiscal year — from $1.1 million to $1.7 million, Han said.

That success has benefitted the city, which took in tens of thousands of dollars more than the minimum fee required by the contract over the past two years. 

Under the contract, the concessionaire must pay the Parks Department a minimum of $112,000 per year, with that fee going up based on increased revenue, Han explained.

Bike and Roll paid the city $194,000 in 2014-2015 and $145,000 in 2013-2014.

The vendor is welcome to apply for the contract again, but it's not clear whether the company will, nor how many bids will be placed, Han noted.

"We value our partnership with the city and we look forward to reviewing the upcoming RFP," Bike and Roll New York City President Chris Wogas said in a statement.

"You cannot go by [Columbus Circle] without being accosted by any number of other people who want to rent you a bike who have no concession with the city," remarked Klari Neuwelt, chair of Community Board 7's Parks Committee, at a meeting Monday to review the RFP. 

Illegal bike-rental vendors, who hold signs aloft and try to intercept tourists, regularly hang out inside or near the Central Park South entrance to the park. The NYPD and Parks Department enforcement officers have worked to chase them out of the park so they don't interfere with Bike and Roll. 

Though their jurisdiction does not extend beyond park property, enforcement officers have made a concerted effort to chase out illegal vendors, Han said. 

"There’s been a huge improvement in illegal vending in the past year since we’ve had Parks enforcement there," he told CB7. 

When Citi Bike first arrived in Columbus Circle, the illegal vendors viewed it as a threat, even stationing themselves near the Sixth Avenue Citi Bike docking station to steer away would-be riders.

While Han said Citi Bike hasn't hurt Bike and Roll, board members wondered whether the citywide bike-share program's recent arrival on the Upper West Side may change that. 

"According to preliminary data, they do not consider Citi Bike to be true competition," Han said. "It’s still geared towards commuters."

Bike and Roll has an edge because it offers human interaction, explains the rules of the road, and provides helmets and tandem bikes, as well as attachments for children, he added.

Board 7 members suggested the Parks Department add a stipulation to the RFP that the vendor include a handlebar attachment for smartphones on its bikes so that tourists can use turn-by-turn directions, or even offer its own navigation app. 

"I think an app would be a great idea," Han said. "A great supplement to whatever [map] they hand out."

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