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).

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6 Responses to Staving Off Bikesharing Shrinkage

  1. Justin Doescher August 30, 2017 at 11:12 am #

    What’s funding model for these? Are there government subsidies? Could that amount be increased?

    • J V September 2, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

      Nice Ride is a 501(c)3 non-profit, they operate on grants, donations and ridership fees.

  2. Anton Schieffer
    Anton Schieffer August 30, 2017 at 11:31 am #

    Oh wow, I didn’t realize that returning a bike to a station wasn’t an important metric for station placement. I use Nice Ride the same way, taking the bus to get somewhere and getting home with Nice Ride once the buses are too infrequent to be helpful. I rarely check bikes out from the station closest to me, but I usually end my trips there.

    If the future is dockless, it would be great if there were areas that were “guaranteed” to have a bike nearby. Reliably knowing there is a bike available nearby is critical for those who depend on bike-sharing as part of MSP’s overall infrastructure.

  3. Max August 30, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    As a Nice Ride user I am little hesitant about the dockless model, but I will go to the September 7th meeting to learn more because I know little about it.
    My biggest concern is regarding accessibility (ADA) and sidewalk space. Can I just drop my bike off and leave it on the sidewalk? What if it blocks the whole sidewalk? If a bike is in the way, can some scoot it off to the side? Can I leave it in a car parking space on the street? Can I leave it in someone’s boulevard garden? Can I leave it on the light rail platform or in the bus stop area?
    What happens at large events like Rock the Garden or the State Fair? Will there be 50 bikes parked all around an intersection and all over the sidewalk? When someone is blind, uses a mobility device or pushes a stroller and comes across a bike or two blocking the sidewalk that’s where I get concerned.

    The docking stations provided some organization and predictability to the sidewalk environment, but limits coverage of the bike share system. Hmmmm…..

  4. Julia August 30, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

    I’m really interested in seeing what’s coming down the docket (ha!) for bikesharing, including dockless, and I wonder if NiceRide would reevaluate how they evaluate stations, given what you and Anton (and I’m sure others!) are saying–clearly origin stations are only part of the story and part of the motivation for many of their riders.

    I’m also hoping NiceRide will address the current lack of smaller bikes and/or adaptive bikes to work for those of us whose bodies “deviate” more from the white able-bodied male norm that the majority of the fleet is designed around (not just in Minneapolis, though other cities appear to be doing more towards inclusive design).

  5. Karen August 31, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

    As a Nice Ride user and former Car2Go user, the dockless also makes me nervous in some ways.

    I do like that dockless won’t limit number of bikes at certain destinations as current docks do – this is problem during events and peak times. I rented share bikes with 3 visiting friends to bike from downtown east Mpls to Surly’s and was very nervously watching the open dock space at Surly’s – we got there at noon and had spaces but it does fill up – and the next bike docks are a short bike away but kind of long walk.

    I’ve also biked places like Como Pavillon to find the dock completely gone ( due to maintenance) and had to bike to other not so close dock.

    But I worry about bikes being properly balanced at reliable locations of demand. At least now, when a fixed bike station gets low – the Nice Ride folks know it is in demand and can send more bikes.

    With bikes everywhere, how to they know the areas of peak demand and how reliable will the supply be at certain locations. Do the analyze the data of people looking for bikes in the app and is that reliable (I used to “look for” cars2go in my app even when I had no intention of driving soon, just to get an idea of what was in a certain area at certain times usually)

    I think ideally there would be a mix of bikes “anywhere they are left” and some fixed spots “stations” where the share bike people would make sure there were always a supply of bikes on hand and customers could rely on them.

    I experienced taking a car2go places and then not having any car2go nearby when I went to leave.

    Also, fixed stations with predictable supply is important to me as a woman. I don’t not want to find myself making a scary, lonely walk during the night in search of a bike far away from place I arrived at on bike earlier…I want to be able to know where bike will be for sure, or not, and plan accordingly.

    Finally – what of electric bikes? They becoming better and less expensive and more popular with time. Curtail their max speeds and they are great way to get people out of cars and onto bike lanes or paths. But don’t they require stations?

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