“This is not complicated,” says Kash. “It’s like a coat-check for bikes.” The longtime cycling advocate and Valet Bike Parking Coordinator of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) is explaining the finer points of operating a bike valet service. The idea is simple: cyclists bring their bike to the valet; they are given a number of some sort; the bike is safely stored for the duration of an event and, afterward, the number is presented to the valet and one’s bike is returned.
The benefits of having a bike valet are many. While it’s a valued service for cyclists, the greatest benefit is to event promoters. Bike valets cut down on traffic congestion, increase attendance at events, reduce security costs, provide a “green” marketing angle, and much more. As such, Kash strongly believes that bike valets should be widely available and free to cyclists, with the fees being picked up by promoters.
Bike valets tend to be organized around events: concerts, ballgames, festivals, markets, etc., but there is no limit to what they could be used for; it’s just a matter of setting them up properly. Here are some tips for running a bike valet like the pros.
Santa Cruz Farmers' Market Bike Valet. Photo credit: Cat Johnson.
Space: A bike valet needs to have a dedicated space that is large enough to comfortably contain however many bikes need to be stored.
A Defined Perimeter: The perimeter of the bike valet needs to be marked and secure. This can be done with a storage room, crowd control barricades, temporary fencing, rollable mesh barriers, etc.
Supplies: You need some kind of number system and something to attach them to bikes. Anything from custom-made, event-specific tags to cheap raffle tickets and some masking tape will do.
Racks: You need something to keep the bikes in place. There are multi-bike racks available to buy, but sawhorses work fine and crowd control barricades, when flipped on their side, make excellent racks. Be creative.
Staffing: The SFBC uses between 3 and 20 staff members per event, with 20 being for really big events (Think free concerts in Golden Gate Park.). The Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market uses one person. Ideally, the person handing out tickets is not the one retrieving and keeping an eye on the bikes, but if the number of bikes is small enough, it can work.
Pricing: This is going to fluctuate depending on your costs. “Bike valet is labor intensive,” says Kash. “Pay your people, pay your bills, and everything else will fall into place.”
Kyle, who runs the Santa Cruz Farmers' Market Bike Valet. Photo credit: Cat Johnson.
Stepping Up Your Game
Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to turn your casual bike valet hobby into a professional bike valet service.
Become Self-Sufficient: Event promoters want to hire you and not have to deal with details. That means that you need to have the valet thing down to a science. That may mean that the perimeter fencing fits nicely in your bike cart or it may mean that you know you need to be provided with 20 crowd control barricades. Know the situation and your place in it.
Approaching Promoters: Have fees, expectations, and services clearly laid out. Be sure to include all the ways that your service is going to benefit them along with some stellar references.
Permanent Locations: Some organizations, such as the San Francisco Giants, have made bike valet a permanent part of their events, with indoor storage and all. Keep an eye out for an opportunity to pitch a permanent bike valet for recurring events.
Information table at the Santa Cruz Farmers' Market Bike Valet. Photo credit: Cat Johnson.
Stuff to Watch Out For
As with most things in life, there are a few gotchas that may arise. But if you plan for them ahead of time, they don’t have to turn from molehills into mountains.
Lost Ticket: If someone has lost their ticket, the best thing to do is have them come back when all the other bikes have been picked up. If theirs is the only one left, chances are very good that it actually is their bike.
Have a Secondary Storage Site: It happens; someone has too much fun at an event and leaves around the shoulders of his friends who have no idea that he arrived on a bike. Rather than waiting around for hours to see if the bike is going to be claimed, have a pre-arranged storage site and contact number for unclaimed bikes.
Dings: You may, at some point, have to pay for a broken light or mirror. Respond quickly and professionally if something does come up.
Appropriate Number of Staff: Make sure that you don’t find yourself caught with too little staff to handle the amount of bikes you’ll check. It will be stressful for you and the security of the bikes will be compromised.
Sketchy Promoters: “It’s really bad for your reputation to not pay a non-profit that’s providing a valuable service,” says Kash. But, sketchy people come in all makes. Get the money upfront if you’re worried.
The Long and Winding Road
There are numerous ways to set up and run a bike valet, and every different situation will be unique. “Start small and let it grow organically,” says Kash. “Once you have a reliable reputation and references, the promoters will come to you.”
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