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Old Steel Town Gets New Life With First Bikeshare System

On September 17, 1977, Youngstown Sheet & Tube closed its operations in Youngstown, Ohio, and let 5,000 employees go. Known as “Black Monday,” it marked the end of a prosperous era for a city that in 2021 was ranked as the poorest city in Ohio by 24/7 Wall St. Now, one Youngstown family is changing the narrative by launching the city’s first bike-share service.

Photo Courtesy Lost Youngstown 

Ronnell Elkins, president of YoGo Bikeshare, visited Washington, D.C., in 2017 and was inspired by the district’s Capital Bikeshare, which maintains 5,000 bikes in the DMV area. “How many of you have been to a large metropolitan city where people walk around a bustling downtown with dedicated bike lanes? You have people going into local businesses in the city – don’t you wish that was in Youngstown?” Elkins asked a large crowd years later. He discussed bringing a similar concept to their city with his father, Kent Wallace. 

Photo Courtesy Capital Bikeshare

2019, the father and three sons – including Kent Wallace II, the vice president of operations, and Paris Wallace – came together as business partners, having done their research. They joined the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI), and through it received a $174,000 loan from Valley Economic Development Partners. Elkins and his father also contributed $5,000 each to the startup capital. 

Throughout January and February 2022, the family held town hall meetings to introduce themselves to the members of its community and answer their questions, with the first bike being shown off at the final town hall at YBI. YoGo received concept approval from Youngstown’s Design Review Committee the following summer. 

Photo Courtesy YoGo Bikeshare

A pivotal moment in the company’s history came in December with an overwhelming show of community support.

YBI held a Shark Tank event in which founders pitched their companies to 6 sharks and 600 attendees. The spectators voted to award YoGo with the audience choice award of $5,000.

“As we always say, YoGo Bikeshare was built from the community for the community. So to have the award from the audience was huge,” Elkins reflected

Kent Wallace II agrees the heart of the company is directed at its neighbors: “YoGo Bikeshare is about more than just offering a service to earn an income. My family is committed to our hometown and its progress. This program helps us work toward our mission by bringing more traffic to local businesses, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing a fun way to exercise, and promoting a sense of community.” 

Photo Courtesy YoGo Bikeshare

Additionally, the family is doing a lot for representation. 42 percent of the city’s population is also Black, and the company’s imagery features people that look like them so their neighbors can envision themselves using the system. At the same time, YoGo wants everyone in the area to benefit: “we look like the demographic in our area, but we wanted to roll this out and execute it in a way where the city as a whole can be proud of it whether you’re Black, white or whatever ethnicity,” Elkins says

Photo Courtesy YoGo Bikeshare

YoGo is rolling out a fleet of 30 e-bikes this March, each of which is 70 percent electric to help riders get around the hilly area and weigh a heavy 70 pounds to last longer against wear and tear. The goal is to raise this number to 80 bikes, along with a growth of 10 percent per year, further reach into the surrounding areas, and collaboration with the Western Reserve Transit Authority for a fully cohesive transportation system. 

To use a bike, an individual just downloads the app and purchases a plan. Single-use riders pay $4.00 for the first 20 minutes, and 15 cents for every minute after. $7.50 will get you unlimited 20-minute rides for an 8-hour day, but it will cost 15 cents for every minute after. Members with an annual subscription pay $90 per year for unlimited 30-minute rides, with 10 cents charged for every minute over. Plus, first-time riders get a free trial period. 

After riding, users simply return and lock the bike into any of the four docking stations, thus avoiding the 10 to 15-cent overtime charges.

“We sought community feedback and have been working with the city and local businesses to install docking stations in the most optimal locations possible,” Elkins says.

One of these locations is at the CycWard Bike Shop, which is very close to Youngstown State University, and another is at the Youngstown Flea. 

Video Courtesy YoGo Bikeshare

There is a special importance attached to introducing a bike-share program in this particular city.  “We’ve always been looked at as kind of a steel town. Not saying that we’re gonna change the outlook of the city by just bikes, but it gives people in our community an opportunity to see something different,” Elkins notes. The hope is to inspire change: “It’s like, all right man, these guys are stepping out and doing something new… and they look like us. So why can’t we do other things?”


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