Seven Things You Need To Know About Nice Ride


“Bike share is pretty new, and there are a whole lot of things about Nice Ride that aren’t really solved yet.” – Bill Dossett


You might have noticed that and Nice Ride Minnesota are trying something new: getting ideas from you, the interested public, about how best to plan our metro’s innovative bike sharing system.

We had a great event last week, kicking off the project with short presentations from Bill Dossett, director of Nice Ride Minnesota, and Antonio Rosell, the head of local planning firm Community Design Group that does a lot of consulting work for the system.

A good time was had by all, and there were lots of great questions from the two dozen or so people in the audience at the McKnight Foundation headquarters.

Even though I’ve read a lot about bike share in general, and Nice Ride in particular, I learned a lot from the 2-hour conversation. Here are a few of the key takeways.

NOTE: If you’d like to participate in the crowdsourcing project, and try to answer one of Nice Ride’s big questions, email me or simply dive in to the data.

ALSO NOTE: This is simply my take on what was said, as a non-Nice Ride representative. I don’t work for Nice Ride and this is a layman’s take (albeit a layman with a PhD).


A terrible photo of the kickoff meeting.


#1) Two types of costs

Every bike share system has two kinds of costs: one-time capitol equipment and ongoing operations and maintenance. Capital is a big initial cost of bikes and stations. For example, a Nice Ride kiosk with 19 docks and 12 bikes typically costs about $50K; ongoing costs for a typical station are around $3,500 per season.

Ongoing operational costs are mostly for maintenance and rebalancing. (For more on rebalancing, see here.) Rebalancing is the  constant movement of bikes across the system, with the goal of making sure there are bikes at every dock.

For Nice Ride, capital costs come from grants while operations costs are “self-financing”: memberships equal about 70%, and the remaining ~30% comes from ads and sponsorships.


Where the money for ongoing costs comes from.



#2) Density differences

There are hundreds of bike share systems around the world. Expanding over the years to Saint Paul and other places means that, compared to successful systems in other cities, Nice Ride looks different because of the station density. For example, Mexico City has around twice the density of stations per square mile than Minneapolis.

That’s why Nice Ride’s rate of utilization is lower than other systems, about 2 trips per bike per day. Other cities can be as high as 7-8 trips per bike per day. A lot of this has to do with different goals, different funding, and different geography.


Bike share systems from around the world, showing station density at the same scale. [top] Trips per bike per day for different systems. [bottom]



#3) Big difference between annual and daily riders. Sort of.

The standard distinction between “transportation” and “recreation” sort of maps onto one key distinction in the Nice Ride system: annual vs. daily rides. For example, subscription users pay once and take lots of trips throughout the year. Each trip imposes some costs, mostly from rebalancing, but these cash flow considerations impact the system.

For the most part, daily users have fewer of these needs. For example, at the Lake Calhoun station, many people take out bikes to simply go around the lake, returning it to the same place it started. From a cash flow perspective, this is the most ideal kind of station.


Detail of map showing type of user; green bars = casual one-time user; purple bar = monthly or yearly subscriber.


Casual stations vs. subscriber stations.


#4) Three systems in one, or the “Nice Ride trinity”

If you look at patterns in the data, there are really three sub-systems within the single Nice Ride system. First there’s the “daily transportation” network of people going to school, work, errands, etc. These are your membership users.

Second, there is the attraction / sight seeing / tourism system. These are the one-day riders taking out a bike around Lake Calhoun, the riverfront, or other scenic places. These aren’t people traveling to a job, but to the city’s many beautiful places, riding a bike and making use of these trails.

Third, there’s the system that mirrors more of a “transit function.” Just like with a bus, it’s not quite correct to provide bike sharing system only in places that today have high demand, ignoring locations in our city where there are populations experiencing health disparities,  where people have lower incomes, or can’t afford a car. But that’s not OK, so Nice Ride also functions to provide mobility in equitable ways across the urban region.


Poverty rate vs. station location.


#5) Bike share is urban

Land use is really important, which is why downtown Minneapolis drives system ridership.

“When people own fewer cars, that’s when we’re going to get more people riding bikes,” Bill Dossett said during the presentation. “My marketing plan doesn’t have nearly as much impact as the fact that heh north loop within a mile of downtown is building more high rises.”

The takeaway here is that one of the biggest determinants to whether someone is going to use Nice Ride or not is whether they own a car. If they don’t own a car, and rely on transit, biking, and walking, they are far more likely to be a regular Nice Ride user. (If they do own a car, chances are slim.)

That means that land use and density are huge biggest factors driving Nice Ride usage, and the maps of station really bear that out. Downtown, the University, the Wedge, a bit of Northeast, and some of Uptown are where usage is the highest. These are also the places with the highest overall densities, transit ridership, an lowest rates of car ownership.


Downtown drives system usage.


#6) Membership has been flat

Since the initial two-year push, subscriptions have been pretty flat at around 4,000 per year. Meanwhile, the numbers of “casual” riders are growing each year, and now represent over half of the total system users.

This has impacts for how you design a system, and is driving some of the trends for Nice Ride and other similar bike share systems.

Here’s a quote from Bill Dossett on the technology trends:

People don’t want another subscription in their lives. […] We believe the future is the mobile phone. People are going to want to pay for lots of diff services on their phone, … [For example there are more] aggregated user interfaces that provide intermodal information, but want to also be able to ‘book your trip’ and be a single user interface for car share, ride share, transit, or whatever. It will happen, but nobody knows how fast.

The relationship between subscribers, technology, and casual consumers is something to keep in mind.


Revenue growth over the past five years.


#7) The tricky Re-Balancing Act

Station density and placement matters because rebalancing for stations in the middle of the system is much easier than rebalancing stations on the edge.  For a station in the downtown core, there’s always a truck nearby. Even if it gets really busy, the rebalancing activity its not that expensive. On the other hand, rebalancing an edge station like Minnehaha Falls is more difficult, and ongoing costs are going to go up.

But sometimes there are exceptions. For example, the new (this year) Como Park station in Saint Paul was a big success, despite being one of the farthest removed from the rest of the network. Initially, Nice Ride planners were very reluctant to place the station there because of potential rebalancing costs. But it’s worked out because most simply riding around the park.


Real-time availability at relatively remote Como Park and Saint Paul Campus stations.


What do you think?

Here’s another quote from Bill:

“If I go downtown, find two busy stations, and put another station in between them, all three stations will get more trips. Downtown continues to get busier and busier, while ridership at outlying stations hasn’t grown very much.”

The Nice Ride system is literally a balancing act: density vs. equity, everyday users vs. one-time users, etc. The challenge of this crowdsource planning project is to figure out what to do next.

Take a look at the questions below, and if you’re interested in earning a Nice Ride subscription, get in touch, dig into the data, and write a post!

  1. Where in the Twin Cities does the green bike system work best? How do land-use, density, and parking cost/availability shape bike share usage? What else correlates strongly?
  2. Are there zones where a denser grid of stations (i.e., a station every two blocks) will maximize utilization? What are the current boundaries of those zones? Will those zones expand with new development? How far?
  3. Are there destinations outside the “dense grid zone” where isolated bike share stations can work with high utilization? What are the characteristics of those destinations and how far from the dense grid zone can they be?
  4. Should any stations be placed in lower-density neighborhoods (single-family residential districts)? If yes, in which neighborhoods and at what density?
  5. How should Nice Ride address equity goals in distributing stations and making the system and its stations accessible to the diversity of communities and populations in the Twin Cities?
  6. Assuming Nice Ride could add 10-20 new bike share stations each year for the next five years (50 to 100 total) – where should those stations be placed, and how should their deployment be staged?
  7. What new tools and approaches should Nice Ride explore to make it easy for more people in Minnesota to choose active transportation?

If you have any thoughts, get in touch. Thanks!

[For further reading, check out Nice Ride’s five-year plan, or the Nice Ride data.]

18 thoughts on “Seven Things You Need To Know About Nice Ride

  1. Julia

    Thanks for sharing all of this for those of us who couldn’t make it to the meeting–fascinating!

    I’m still holding out, as are many others I know, for NiceRide bikes that work for smaller (primarily women’s, particularly non-white women’s) bodies. Any word on those in the meeting? Perhaps a mention of gender/race usage patterns?

    Also, I thought that NiceRide received some portion of funding from health care companies, in-kind donations from the city (e.g. space for kiosks), and some government funds. Is that all included in the kiosk sponsorships? Are there restrictions on how that funding is used (e.g. towards health equity)?

    1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

      Interesting comment, Julia. The NiceRide bikes are the exact same as the Capital Bikeshare bikes in DC, and I haven’t seen them be that big of an issue for women out there, or short people like me…I just lower the seat.

      1. Rosa

        Julia’s shared before that the Nice Ride bikes are too big for her to ride. So there definitely is a subset of riders they don’t work for.

  2. Janne

    As with most things, I suspect I’m an atypical user. I have no car, and I have no Nice Ride membership. I use the one-day subscriptions when I need it (for the transit function), as I use my own bikes both for the commuting and the tourism functions. That happens several times a year. Lucky for me, there’s a station across the street from my house (which I see has more membership users than people like me.)

  3. Kathleen

    I have been a subscriber since Nice Ride started. Since I mainly use my own bike for transportation I mostly subscribe to show my support for what I think is an important addition to our transit options.

    I am glad that Nice Ride is still tweaking the system. I look forward to seeing the changes in upcoming years.

  4. Samson

    I’m not sure what it is, maybe the nice ride bikes suck, or maybe the people riding them are just incompetent. Of all the bike vs bike close call’s I’ve had when riding around the city, they are all with people on Nice Ride’s. I think they should require some kind of bike safety class before letting people take these things out. You know, look over your shoulder before you swerve across the trail. That kind of thing.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      In general, I’d bet that NR users are less experienced cyclists. If you’re having close calls with those folks, you should probably point fingers and sub-standard infrastructure. We need streets that accomodate anyone riding a bicycle, not just people who’ve taken training classes.

      1. Nick

        This got me thinking. You could also alert them if you’re passing. People are pretty bad about assuming that someone knows you’re there, but on a noisy street it’s not that likely. And then there are the people riding with earbuds in that have no clue who’s around them.

  5. Eric

    For sure there will be a balance between inclusion and safety. I am not sure that the biking community in MSP is at a place where safety on bike trails is a huge concern, and we surely do not need any unnecessary exclusionary policy.

    For safety, I ride on the roads and trails pretty often. Way more than most, way less then the every-day grinders and commuters. I almost never see unsafe incompetence. Almost every safety issue I see on the trails is caused by someone (ironically this is often “serious” riders on expensive bikes) breaking the posted on 10MPH speed on those trails or those making an unannounced or aggressive passing maneuver.

    We also have a branding problem. There is the completely untrue impression among many in the public that cycling is a fringe activity for serious or fitness cyclists only. That does not help any of the stated objectives of Nice Ride. And that branding problem would only be harmed by some exclusionary policy like requiring some sort of certification for an activity that most kids freely do on a regular basis.

    1. Nick

      Agree. More safety to be gained by growing the numbers than shrinking them by introducing a new barrier. I ride around DT a lot (to/from work, both NR and my own bike) and rarely encounter NR users that are riding unsafely. More likely to see someone who is *too* accustomed to DT riding making bad moves. Like the cyclist who almost got hit by a car right in front of me yesterday because he was accelerating to make a light and passed a car signaling to turn right on the right–blind spot nono!

  6. Thatcher Imboden

    When I was a subscriber, I was also mostly bike commuting on my own bike. I used NR to supplement when I got a ride to work or took the bus. My primary trip was probably if I went to a work meeting with a coworker but they weren’t going back to the office after and so I’d bike back from the North Loop or Uptown on a NR. Also helpful to get from Uptown/LynLake to Eat Street.

    Then when I worked near the Government Center, I often would use NR to get to the North Loop, Northeast, Mill District, the bus at Hennepin if I was running late, or to Uptown if it was nice out. I had a Metro Pass so my choice to bike was often driven by time and weather. Time because it was often faster than busing, faster and easier than taking an agency vehicle, or faster than walking. So it was mostly a speed thing, as I tend to run a couple minutes late.

    When I was back in Minneapolis this summer, I bought a one day pass to get quickly from Uptown to West Calhoun.

    So from my experience, I’ve mostly been interested in seeing how it can fill in destinations/origins that a bike ride can be more competitive than walking or busing. Great for mile length trips that waiting for a bus that stops every block is slower than biking. Or for moving between neighborhoods along zones that are a 5-10 minute walk to the nearest cross-directional bus.

  7. Casey

    I see NR bikers and regular bikers ride unsafely all the time. I regularly see bikes run red lights, swerve between traffic, and go from street to sidewalk to avoid traffic while pedestrians are there. I have also seen a city council member ride while on the phone in front of a bus.

  8. GlowBoy

    Casey: I see NR bikers, regular bikers and especially car drivers operate their vehicles unsafely all the time. But if I’m really conscious of avoiding both availability bias (we tend to notice wrongdoers more and remember them longer than people unobtrusively doing nothing wrong) and confirmation bias (being more likely to remember incidents that confirm previously held beliefs – “NR riders are the worst!” being a possible example) I don’t think cyclists break the law more than drivers (and certainly do so in far, far less dangerous ways) and I don’t think NR riders are more dangerous than other cyclists.

    If anything, I would agree with some of the other above comments that it seems to me that NR riders as a whole might even be safer riders than the general population. Yes, I’ve seen a handful of really dumb or inconsiderate moves, but overall I’d say I see less really stupid or aggressive maneuvers from people on Nice Ride bikes. As for Nice Riders swerving across the trail, I encounter that far less often than pedestrians unexpectedly wandering out into bike zones – should we have mandatory pedestrian training? Possible reasons why NRs appear as safe or safer (to me) might have to do with lower speeds, greater caution due to being (on average) less experienced, or greater caution due to lower helmet use.

    Personally, I wear a helmet when I ride my own bike, but usually don’t when I’m on a Nice Ride, and most of the time I think I ride more carefully as a result.

  9. Serafina ScheelSerafina Scheel

    I’d love to see Nice Ride become more family friendly, offering bike seats for kids or youth-sized bikes somewhere in the mix. I also wonder about experimenting with partnering with school locations, particularly at high schools.

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