Bikeshare bikes docked in a station with an apartment building under construction in the background. The apartment building has a feature with lighting that changes colors.

Staving Off Bikesharing Shrinkage

Bikeshare bikes docked in a station with an apartment building under construction in the background. The apartment building has a feature with lighting that changes colors.

Nice Ride station at Cleveland & Highland. And the Finn changes colors at night!

A couple of days before the Nice Ride season started this year, I looked at their map to scout out stations by TCF Stadium. I was getting ready to go to a soccer game there and was looking forward to being able to use Nice Ride to get to or from games.

But my neighborhood station was missing from the map.

What?! It had to be a mistake. I walked to see if the station was sitting there, waiting for bikes and activation.

The usual spot was empty. So I took to Twitter. In short, using social media as an organizing tool, I asked a bunch of people to contact Nice Ride about this station location, and in response, Nice Ride reconsidered its decision to eliminate it and put the station back this season. (Thanks Nice Ride!)

On its web site, Nice Ride says that for bikeshare stations, “The best locations have easy access to other bike infrastructure like bike lanes and paths, as well as public transit like buses and trains. Modern bike share equipment is costly.”

The A Line (bus rapid transit) just opened in the Highland neighborhood in June 2016, and Highland is well served by other bus routes. Cleveland just got bike lanes completed last fall. Nice Ride didn’t take the new bike lanes a block away into account in its decision to cut the Cleveland & Highland location for the 2017 season, even though we’ve often heard in Saint Paul that the city’s lack of bike infrastructure was part of why we didn’t have a lot of Nice Ride stations. It was frustrating that Nice Ride didn’t seem interested in even giving a location with new bike lanes another chance without pressure from customers.

That’s originally where I was going to end this post. Yay, organizing through social media helped save a bikesharing station for at least one more year.

In late July, I wanted to know how the station was performing this season. Nice Ride opened this year on April 4, and this station came back on April 13. I asked, and they gave me the season’s numbers for all the stations as of the afternoon of July 25th. And the Cleveland and Highland station isn’t doing any better so far. If any of us want it back here next year, it’s time to start renting a lot of bikes from this station. For that period, there were 325 rentals, down from the previous year (which was 429 at that point). With 3.2 rentals a day on average, it’s on pace to end up with around 660 for the season. Last year there were 699 rentals. Nice Ride’s preferred threshold is 1,000 rentals for a station. With a total under 1,000, the Cleveland and Highland station is in company with most of the stations in Saint Paul, but that’s another story.

During the attempt to get the station back this year, I learned that Nice Ride just looks at rentals from a station when considering station placement. Returning bikes to a station doesn’t count for much if you’re trying to keep a station in your neighborhood.

Learning this made me reflect on my own Nice Ride use. I tend to use my neighborhood station to get home, meaning I return bikes to it more than I rent bike from it. Often I’ve taken transit somewhere, and it’s either not running or inconvenient by the time I need to go home, so I take a Nice Ride. For me to get to the lone Nice Ride station in my neighborhood, I have to walk twice as far as I do to get to nearby bus stops with convenient transit service. So there’s not a ton of incentive for me to walk past a bunch of bus stops that often can get me to where I’m going just as well as a bike. The way I use Nice Ride doesn’t count.

Is the greatest hope for better bikeshare in my neighborhood dockless bike sharing? I recently went to a presentation and discussion at the University of Minnesota on stationless bike sharing in China and the US. At that event, Bill Dossett, Nice Ride’s executive director, declared that station-based bike share is dead.

Now it looks like Nice Ride is moving ahead in this direction. The bike sharing organization is hosting an event with Our Streets on September 7th to have a “public discussion and Q & A about bike share industry change. In response to these changes, Nice Ride is issuing a Request for Proposals for the transition of the Twin Cities bike sharing system.”

Will this mean more access to bike sharing for neighborhoods that have largely been excluded, like the East Side of Saint Paul, and areas like my neighborhood with limited service? It remains to be seen if dockless bike share can be sustainable or if it will go the route of car2go’s car sharing model, which wasn’t successful in the Twin Cities. Dockless bike share will reduce the operating costs for providers by not having to maintain stations, but it must expand access in the long run, not just for a short intro period followed by shrinking the service area (a la car2go here).

Heidi Schallberg

About Heidi Schallberg

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Heidi Schallberg tweets @laflaneuse more than she posts here. Her posts reflect only her opinion and not those of any organization.