Electric Nice Ride Bikes

Electric Bike Share Coming Soon to Minneapolis

The big news for bike share in Minneapolis this year is electric bikes. At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, the executive director of the bike share non-profit Nice Ride Minnesota, Bill Dossett, presented an outline of their 2019 plans.

The numbers:

  • 578 dockless “hubs” (14 per sq mile)
  • 1,500 dockless bikes
  • 1,800 electric bikes
  • 47 additional physical stations
  • 200 total stations
  • E-bike speeds up to 18 mph

Ebikes Pilot

Dossett said that if a two-month e-bike pilot goes smoothly, Nice Ride would then deploy all 1,800 e-bikes. All of the green station-based bikes would be replaced with an e-bike. The e-bike pilot will run from May through June.

Electric assistance on the e-bikes don’t kick in until a rider starts pedaling. Speeds are limited: the motor stops when you hit 18 miles per hour.

Dossett said the original plan for 2019 was to add more of the dockless, pedal-powered bikes. That changed when Motivate, the bike share company that operates Nice Ride’s system, noticed that “consumers want electric bikes.” Other cities are seeing 12-15 trips per day on each bike, “far greater usage than we were getting on the traditional bikes.” So instead of adding 1,500 more dockless bikes in 2019, they’re adding 1,800 e-bikes.

Nice Ride will be employing “battery swappers” in 2019 to keep their e-bikes charged. Future plans call for the old stations to serve as e-bike charging stations. As of last year it was thought that stations — with modems and touch screens that are expensive to maintain — would eventually be phased out. But Dossett said the adoption of e-bikes mean the stations are likely here to stay. Minneapolis is getting 47 additional stations in 2019.

Nice Ride is unique in using a hub-based system for their dockless bikes (as opposed to a park-it-anywhere approach). Hubs are marked by signage and white tape applied to the ground. Dossett said, “The city permitted a ton of [dockless] hubs really really quickly” but deployment of all 1,500 dockless bikes was hindered by weeks of rain that made it difficult to install the white tape that marks the locations of their not-quite-dockless hubs. As a result only 1,270 of the planned 1,500 dockless bikes were deployed in 2018.

In addition to adding bikes, the footprint of the dockless system is expanding.

Nice Ride Expansion Map

As a Nice Ride user, a big problem for me in 2018 was the small geographic footprint and the reduced hub density. Because the dockless bikes are not compatible with stations, and stations were frequently not co-located with hubs, Nice Ride’s docked and dockless systems often function as two separate systems. This makes the system far less useful than it could be.

I’ve also heard from a lot of fellow-users who are not happy with the limitations of Nice Ride’s approach to dockless bike share. It isn’t really dockless, so it doesn’t come with the benefits of a dockless system. You can’t go to the store and park it out front. You can’t use the traditional bike parking that already exists in the city. You’re limited by how many of virtual stations Nice Ride is able to deploy.

Dossett said it’s too early to draw conclusions from 2018: “We only operated for a month and a half, so we really can’t give you the final word on how this dockless system is working.” But he did offer a few takeaways from last year:

  • “These are extremely high-quality bikes… that’s a big change from what you saw from these start up companies delivering bikes in other cities.”
  • Riders returned bikes to hubs or next to physical stations after 99% of trips. “That was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect to see behavior that good.”
  • Theft or vandalism was not a problem.

The penalty fee for parking outside a “hub” is $5. Last year I took a chance and parked a dockless bike next to a regular physical station — I received an email warning from Nice Ride.

Something else that’s new for Nice Ride in 2019: a reduced-fare membership program with a target launch date of Mid-May 2019, with “online sign-up/verification through assistance programs (e.g. SNAP, TAP).”

Nice Ride’s future in St. Paul has been in doubt, after they selected a different bike share operator for their dockless system last year. But towards the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Minneapolis Council Member Kevin Riech hinted, “I think I heard a rumor that we may have an opportunity to bring St. Paul back into the fold. I’ll just leave it at that at this point in time.”

Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson gushed, “I think this is just so great and I can’t wait to get out and take one for a spin!”

The 2019 Nice Ride season is scheduled to open on April 10. The season typically runs until the end of October. The cost is $2 per ride, $6 for the day, or 75 for an annual member ship. There will be a $1 surcharge on e-bike rentals.