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Lessons Learned From the Nice Ride Era

Hear what it’s like to lead and run a bikeshare program with our guests, Melissa Summers and Alasdair McKernan. Formerly of our beloved Nice Ride, they now help run our car sharing program. Listen in as they share their wisdom about the logistics of bikeshare, the complications of the entities who run them, and advice for anyone who’d want to rebirth a Cities-wide option.

Links

Attributions

Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band The Urban Hillbilly Quartet on their website.

This episode was produced by Sherry Johnson with assistance from Christina Neel and Jeremy Winter. It was edited and transcribed by Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the show, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at podcast@streets.mn.

Transcript

Sherry: [00:00:00] Did you ever have to fish a bike out of a body of water?

Melissa: [00:00:04] Multiple times, yes.

Alasdair: [00:00:06] We bought a piece of horse riding equipment, a tack hook. It looks like a big grappling hook. Tied it to a long rope, put some, like, big old bolts on it to weight it down. And I used that to…

Melissa: [00:00:19] That the one in Bde Maka Ska?

Alasdair: [00:00:20] Yeah. I fished a bike off the pier on Bde Maka Ska in front of the, yeah.

Melissa: [00:00:24] And then there were the two that had been under water in Loring Pond for a couple of years. Yeah. They were they were doing some dredging or something. And they came up with two bikes. They were covered in goo and fishing line and they smelled horrible, but they were rideable. The tires were still inflated. The gear shifts were these things were tanks. Those bikes just would not die. They were amazing. So we did not put the submarines back out into service. But boy, that was amazing. We couldn’t even let them. I wouldn’t let them into the garage because they smelled so bad. Yeah.

Ian: [00:00:55] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m your host, Ian R Buck. There are two words that evoke a bittersweet feeling here in the Twin Cities: Nice Ride. An early darling of the bikeshare world that many other cities modeled their systems after, it had quite a storied history. Today, it has been many frustrating years since both cities have had the same bike share options, and it seems like we’re at a bit of a crossroads today. Do we double down on contracting out to a variety of private companies, or do we spin up a truly municipally run bike share system? And if we do, what agency or city should run it? Lots of open questions that our producer, Sherry Johnson, was interested in pursuing with some former Nice Ride employees. So Sherry, tell me about your guests.

Sherry: [00:01:56] So I’m going to back up and just say I am lucky enough to have worked not for a bike share, but for a car share for a while. I worked for HOURCAR and member services, and since then I’ve helped as a consultant. I’ve helped HOURCAR a few different times throughout their history, and on a recent retreat that I ran for them, two of their newer members, Melissa Summers and Alasdair McKernan, who was just coming in as I was helping, both just mentioned that they’d worked at Nice Ride and had a lot to say about it, and it was fascinating. And so then when I joined the Streets.mn Pod team and there was this idea that folks wanted to do this show, I thought, hey, I wonder if they’d talk to us. And so I talked with them. And Melissa is a member of their leadership team and had been as well for Nice Ride. And Alasdair was has been involved with the fleet services in both and operations. And they’re just really kind people. They said, listen, we can’t really speak officially for Nice Ride or for our car even, but we’re we’re willing to talk to you like regular, regular humans over lunchtime. And so I got to talk with them. They’re great, great folks.

Ian: [00:03:07] Yeah. And this, this is kind of a topic that like an article by Dan Marshall really got my gears spinning where he was talking about – I don’t think that this was even the thesis of the article itself, but he was talking about like, what kinds of things could we do if we had, like the Metropolitan Council had a bike specific committee that, you know, and like, what kinds of things could that do? And, and I, you know, thought of like, oh. Rideshare, right? Like bike share, right?

Sherry: [00:03:42] Yeah. And I was really so I also just came back from the Mpact Conference and I found out that both Minneapolis and sorry, Hennepin County and Ramsey County both have active transportation active staff working on that. So and I know that there’s a lot of changes happening at the Met Council. But just for this, I decided to talk with Melissa and Alasdair about their realm of expertise. Just how does this work? What are some things that if those municipal folks were willing to dive in and try something like this, what are some things that they need to think about and operationally leadership wise? And I think, you know, we got a couple of really good stories, but hopefully we’ll have some future conversations too, about that more political stuff as we move forward.

Ian: [00:04:33] Yeah. And I mean finding like current HOURCAR employees is really, really good for this topic because like currently the Evie Carshare is the only example that we have of like a municipally run, you know, something that that is partnered between the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. But is but is still like operated by a company.

Sherry: [00:05:01] Yeah, yeah. And I also had the insight of being on staff and I was part of the research team. I led the research team for the program manager at the time at HOURCAR, to even just get the RFID reader on a go to card to work with the with HOURCARs and saw how that process had to work. And it’s really detailed. And there’s, you know, it took a very long time to get that spun up. So there’s a lot of this that I’m looking forward to further pursuing, maybe in future pods or in some written pieces for Streets about. Yeah. What what does it look like if government were to take on some of this and Melissa and Alasdair also really kind and you’ll hear in the interview them talking about just the what it’s like the private versus nonprofit versus government run sharing of transportation modes. Make some good points.

Ian: [00:05:54] And I haven’t heard this this panel yet, this discussion. So I’m really excited to to get to explore it with the listeners at the same time.

Sherry: [00:06:05] Excellent. Well, I hope folks enjoy it. It’s a treat.

Ian: [00:06:09] All right. Let’s dive right in. [musical transition]

Sherry: [00:06:18] So. Hey. Good morning.

Melissa: [00:06:21] Good morning.

Alasdair: [00:06:22] Good morning.

Sherry: [00:06:22] All right. So why don’t you both introduce yourselves?

Melissa: [00:06:26] I’m Melissa Summers. I used to work for Nice Ride. I now work for HOURCAR.

Alasdair: [00:06:30] And I’m Alasdair McKernan. Likewise. I used to work for a Nice Ride, and I’m now working for HOURCAR.

Sherry: [00:06:35] Thank you both for agreeing to talk about bikeshare in the Twin Cities, and hopefully apply some of what you’re learning at HOURCAR about sharing modes to this conversation, too. So again, you both worked for Nice Ride. What was your specific role there?

Melissa: [00:06:52] I started out as the customer services manager. I brought our call center in-house, then was also responsible for placing stations. So I was the one running around with a measuring tape. I know exactly what 40ft looks like. [laughter] And then I moved into being the assistant director. And when Motivate took over, I was general manager for just under a year.

Alasdair: [00:07:14] And then I started on the operations side as a rebalancer, driving a truck and trailer around, moving bikes from full stations to empty stations and keeping things clean. And I progressed to be a station technician, making sure that the kiosks and docking points were all in good working order and fixing up the bikes over the winter. So they were clean and usable for people, and I moved up into management after that. Just before Motivate took over, I took over some day to day operations duties and then once motivate started operating the fleet, I was the operations manager there, overseeing the rebalancers and some of the dispatchers that were, you know, creating the work and keeping the fleet running and keeping the operations going for everyone out on the street.

Sherry: [00:07:57] Nice. So who used Nice Ride? What was the typical demographic?

Melissa: [00:08:03] Well, we have a lot of they’re really popular on on the college campuses. A lot of the staff and professors use, use the bikes on, on campus. It was mostly a kind of a white, middle class, older demographic than we expected. I always kind of assumed it was going to be younger people, but it really our regular users tended to be a little skew, a little on the older side. And then and then-

Alasdair: [00:08:30] Yeah, we had a big contingent of, you know, recreational users, people biking around the lakes or the creek or, you know, going to fun destinations, which I think is remarkable compared to other bike share systems who are largely dependent on commuters and people using the bikes for transit to get to work and things like that. We had a lot more, a lot bigger share of people just using the bikes recreationally.

Sherry: [00:08:53] Nice. So where are we at now with transportation sharing programs in the metro?

Melissa: [00:08:59] Well, we’ve got HOURCAR, which is where we both work, which is a car share. It’s member based. It’s not like you join up and then you can use our cars. We have ones that are based in hubs that you have to take out and return to the hubs. Those are mostly gas powered cars. And we have a large fleet of Evie, of electric vehicles that are one way where you can take it from any place that any available car, and then return it anywhere within our our usage area that is a is a legal parking space. But we’ve grown hugely. When I started we had 50 cars. I started two years ago and we now have over 200 and we’re growing rapidly.

Alasdair: [00:09:41] Yeah. And then as far as like other shared mobility options, there’s still a couple of bike and scooter share or scooter rental providers around town that have the free floating bikes and scooters like Lime, Veo, and Spin. Yeah, and Bird’s been and gone and come back again and gone again.

Sherry: [00:09:58] Yeah. And what is your memory of Nice Ride. How would you tell its story?

Alasdair: [00:10:04] Nice ride was a story, I think, of a big growth. It started really small as a as a fun little nonprofit trying to get people in Minneapolis on bikes. And it really grew. It took off and did really, really well in the first, you know, 5 to 10 years. And it sort of hit, hit a peak and got surrounded by competitors and other new ideas in the market when these free floating bikes came, the if you remember the blue bikes that were around, just the idea of a free floating bike rather than the docked bike share model, the station based model that Nice Ride started with, and that sort of took the world by storm a little bit and got a lot of eyes and and dollars looking at bike share. And it brought a lot of big players that came in and sort of changed the way things worked. And nice ride got bought up by Motivate, which was a large company that operates bike shares across the US. And it sort of shifted from that nonprofit making a good for the community-

Melissa: [00:11:16] “Butts on bikes.”

Alasdair: [00:11:17] Move from butts on bikes to, you know, dollars in bank accounts and kind of… Motivate took it and tried to grow grow it into more of a business which ultimately kind of didn’t work. And Lyft, who bought most of Motivate or was having Motivate operate the system for them, pulled out. You know, last year at the end of last year left the bike share market in Minneapolis. So it was kind of the the rise and fall of Nice Ride.

Melissa: [00:11:45] Yeah, it was sad. I was I was surprisingly grief stricken when I found out it wasn’t coming back.

Sherry: [00:11:50] Oh yeah. You and a lot of folks who listen to this podcast.

Melissa: [00:11:53] Yeah, yeah, I mean, it started out when it was really great. I mean, I it’s still one of my favorite jobs that I’ve ever had. I loved working for Nice Ride. The when the free floating, the venture capital backed, you know, Spins and Limes and all of the other bikes started showing up, they undercut us. You know, it’s kind of like Walmart moving into a small town and undercutting all of the the little shops on Main Street. It was kind of the same thing because they came in and they were renting out the bikes for way cheaper than we could possibly do, and we cut, you know, we cut our we lowered our price and we couldn’t lower it enough to, to even compete with, with the, the big guys. So that’s why we decided that we needed to switch to having Motivator. We had a big, huge round of interviewing other bike share or other bike management companies and ultimately chose Motivate. And so Motivate took over. And Lyft basically the day that Motivate took over Nice Ride, Lyft took over Motivate. So it was a it was a heck of a transition, you know, and it really did. The mission just changed completely when when it went, you know, out of the nonprofit world.

Sherry: [00:13:07] Know, was there a day to day rhythm that you noticed changing.

Alasdair: [00:13:11] Sort of like looking at before and after the watershed moment of Nice Ride getting bought out. Yeah. There definitely was a big shift in mentality from, you know, sort of this self-directed, bootstrapped nonprofit feel of, you know, driving around and feeling like you’re doing some good in the world, moving bikes to having, you know, everything you do out on the street, be monitored and subjected to, you know, performance metrics and making sure that your numbers look good. And it’s the jobs that you’re being told to do are not the jobs that you would have chosen to do, given, you know, the needs of what you could see was the needs of the market on the street. And so it became something driven by an external factor than something rather than something we were driving ourselves.

Melissa: [00:14:03] Yeah, rebalancing used to be kind of an art, you know, you kind of learn the flow. And so you knew that we had to pack this station full of bikes because everyone’s going to be coming out of the office at the end of the day, and you just knew which ones needed attention. And it just stopped being like that.

Alasdair: [00:14:17] Yeah, yeah. It stopped, you know, it started feeling more like we were being given directions based on what worked for other markets, rather than what had been working just fine for our market. And, you know, the fact that Nice Ride had its highest ridership year and day and everything under the nonprofit, rather than under private ownership, kind of showed that we were doing a really good job by ourselves.

Melissa: [00:14:43] I think so, yeah.

Sherry: [00:14:44] Well, then you now work for HOURCAR, which of course is a nonprofit Carshare. Tell us a little bit more about your current gig, especially what it has to say about sharing transportation modes.

Melissa: [00:14:55] Well, excuse me, I was hired as the business operations director, and I’m now a COO of our car, and I kind of just oversee. Basically, my job is to make sure that the people who work for me have what they need to do their job, and then I just get out of their way because I don’t know anything about cars behind you. You turn them on and then you drive them. And that’s I’m not a mechanic person, so I just make sure that I hire people who are smarter than me and make sure that they can do what they need to do. So.

Alasdair: [00:15:25] Yeah.

Melissa: [00:15:25] Like him. Yeah. [laughter]

Alasdair: [00:15:28] Yeah. I’m working as the fleet operations manager here under Melissa, and it’s been sort of heartwarming to see how well HOURCAR and especially the the new Evie service are doing. You know, I think there’s definitely appetite around here for people to have shared mobility solutions that are working for them and allow them to access the things they need to in their communities. So yeah, yeah, I’ve really enjoyed seeing usership grow here and the number of trips have increased. We’ve had some of our best days, best weekends ever, you know, pretty recently. So yeah.

Sherry: [00:16:01] That’s good to hear. Yeah, yeah. So you said earlier that one of the issues with Motivate is that you basically had to start acting as if you were a national corporation rather than a local thing. What are you learning locally about transportation sharing programs in this metro. What works and what doesn’t?

Melissa: [00:16:21] I mean, really, what you need in order for any kind of shared transportation to work is density. It’s not, you know, like bike sharing isn’t going to work in areas where everybody has a garage because you’re going to have a garage, a bike in that garage, most likely. Same with same with high density, same with car sharing. Because everybody if you live in a high density area, parking is a huge issue. And you just you have to rent basically another apartment or a parking stall basically for your for your car. So it’s easier to not own a car if you people who use HOURCAR don’t need to worry about paying for parking. They don’t need to worry about parking meters because we have agreements with the cities that that we don’t have to pay for parking meters. So it’s just easier for people to not own a car. So that’s the big thing. Like we tried doing, HOURCAR attempted to run a program in Rochester, and we had a couple cars down there and they just they got used basically by the same ten people who really loved it, but it just wasn’t sustainable because Rochester is is not very dense. So you really need a city, a place with a, with a high, high density of population so that people don’t want to own a car or don’t have space to store a bike or, or anything like that because they. So it just makes it easier to, to not have a car basically. And, and shared transportation is really just about reducing the number of cars that are out or the or making bikes available to people. And, you know, it’s that last mile, right, of getting you take the bus in from the suburbs and then you can take a, you know, and you need to run errands at lunch. You can take an HOURCAR and run errands and go to Target and get get everything home on the on the bus on the way home. So and.

Sherry: [00:18:00] That was also the idea of Nice Ride.

Melissa: [00:18:02] Nice Ride did the same the same way because you could park outside of downtown, (which is what I used to do) outside of the meter zone by that one off Portland.

Sherry: [00:18:11] I used to do this too. Yeah.

Melissa: [00:18:12] And then you take the bike. So if you’re wearing heels, you don’t want to walk six blocks into downtown. So you can take the you take the bike in and park for free. Yeah.

Alasdair: [00:18:21] Yeah yeah, definitely. Density is the key. Like we see that the areas where Nice Ride did really well are the same areas that HOURCAR does really well. You know, the places where people don’t want to have to fight to find a parking spot. They don’t, you know, even if they have a car, maybe they don’t want to move it for fear of not finding somewhere to put it back if they’re just going down the road. Right. So yeah. Yeah, density is the real key of, you know, making any sort of shared mobility work.

Melissa: [00:18:50] And frankly bike infrastructure was is also you know the having a bike share system really is not going to work in a town that does not have any bike paths or bike lanes or any kind of driver awareness of, of bicyclists. And I think in the Twin Cities, cars and bikes get along pretty well, you know.

Sherry: [00:19:14] [sighs]

Melissa: [00:19:14] For the most part! I’m not saying everybody, but.

Alasdair: [00:19:18] There’s always room for improvement. But Minneapolis Saint Paul do it pretty well.

Melissa: [00:19:21] Yeah they do.

Sherry: [00:19:23] Any other parallels between what you’re doing now and what you used to do at Nice Ride in your daily work?

Alasdair: [00:19:30] For me, there’s a lot, since it’s very, very closely the same job that I’m doing for HOURCAR that I was doing for nice Ride. So there’s a lot of making sure that the vehicles, the cars or the bikes are in the right spot where people are going to want to use it, that they’re available, that if someone wants to use it, if they walk up to a car or a bike, it’s going to work and it’s going to be an enjoyable experience for them. So yeah, it’s very similar about moving, moving the things to the places where people want them and making sure that they’re in good running, working order.

Sherry: [00:20:04] I have a question I’m dying to ask. Did you ever have to fish a bike out of a body of water?

Melissa: [00:20:12] Multiple times.

Alasdair: [00:20:13] Yeah, I’ve, I’ve pulled a we we bought a piece of horse riding equipment, a tack hook. It looks like a big grappling hook. Tied it to a long rope, put some, like, big old bolts on it to weight it down. And I used that to-

Melissa: [00:20:29] Is that the one in Bde Maka Ska?

Alasdair: [00:20:30] Yeah, I fished a bike off the pier in Bde Maka Ska. Like right in front of the, yeah.

Melissa: [00:20:35] I pulled one up the hill from Minnehaha Falls once.

Alasdair: [00:20:37] That was fun. Yeah.

Melissa: [00:20:38] And then there were the two that had been under water in Loring Pond for a couple of years.

Alasdair: [00:20:42] Yeah, swamp bikes!

Melissa: [00:20:42] They were they were doing some dredging or something, and they came up with two bikes. They were covered in goo and fishing line and they smelled horrible, but they were rideable. The tires were still inflated. The gear shifts were – these things were tanks. Those bikes just would not die. They were amazing. So we did not put the the submarines back out into service. But boy, that was amazing. We couldn’t even let them. I wouldn’t let them into the garage because they smelled so bad. Yeah.

Alasdair: [00:21:07] I remember it was a maybe 4 or 5 years ago now they they shut the the dam at Saint Anthony Falls and really dropped the, the water level in the river. And there were employees of all the bike and scooter share companies down there. Just picking them out of the mud.

Sherry: [00:21:20] Yeah. Oh my gosh. What was that scene like? Describe that scene. I have to know.

Melissa: [00:21:27] Were you here when they did that? It was pretty much, you could walk down where the river is. By the Stone Arch bridge. It was amazing. Yeah. I mean, I walked down there just because I could.

Alasdair: [00:21:36] Yeah, it was very muddy and, you know,

Melissa: [00:21:38] Smelly.

Alasdair: [00:21:39] Smelly. But there were a lot of bikes and scooters.

Sherry: [00:21:44] Oh no.

Melissa: [00:21:45] Well, it’s like an Amsterdam. They’ve got barges that go through and just pull bikes out of the canals. That because they get, they get so deep in there that they impede boat traffic sometimes.

Sherry: [00:21:55] Yeah. You had talked about the Nice Rides being like tanks. I recently was at the Mpact Conference and I talked with a person there who uses the bike share a lot in DC, and she shared that she saw it as an equity issue where she was going between cities, transportation, professional, and just noticing that there seemed to be this trade off in the in the bike ride share corporations between using really high quality bikes. That and using quick fast bikes that were easier to get up curbs, say, and be maneuverable on, but they would break all the time. Is there any do you see legitimacy to that? Did you see that?

Melissa: [00:22:35] 100% yeah. The nice ride bikes were, you know, their granny geared. You’re not going to break any speed records on one. But they are they are just reliable and they just don’t break and they but whereas but the thing with the like the Lime bikes or the, the venture capital backed ones, they, the bikes were cheap and easy to get. If you ever give a Google to rainbow bike share war and look at the images of of bikes just piled.

Alasdair: [00:23:03] Graveyards.

Melissa: [00:23:04] Graveyard three story tall piles of bikes in China because all these venture capital backed, would just come and just dump thousands and thousands of bikes and no one would repair them. So they would they would just get if something went wrong, they’d just threw it away and put another one in because they were the bikes were really cheap, you know, whereas we had our they expected Nice Ride bikes to last for about five years and they were still going strong.

Alasdair: [00:23:27] We still had ones that were, you know, you could tell from the serial number had been around since year one when we were shutting things down and packing them up, and they were still just as rideable as ever. So the the nice red bikes well outlasted their their projected lifetime. And all the bikes that you see coming in in these big venture capital based dockless free floating bikes were just they saw them basically as disposable. You know, it’s if it breaks you replace it with a new one, get it drop shipped and, you know, save on the labor cost of fixing it.

Melissa: [00:23:59] Yeah.

Sherry: [00:24:00] So backing up to your own experience in this industry, what would you now tell yourself when you worked at Nice Ride? What lessons might you have learned from the the the takeover Motivate and then moving to HOURCAR? What would you tell yourself back then?

Melissa: [00:24:16] Well, I don’t know. I certainly don’t regret working for Nice Ride at all. If I had it to do over (not that I was not one of the decision makers on on going with Motivate or going with) you know, I would have not done that. I think we could have possibly outwaited the venture capital backed bike share systems, because a lot of them have are gone because they didn’t. Well, because surprise, transportation doesn’t, transit doesn’t make money. Bike share is just not a it’s not a profit making business. It’s transportation. It’s it’s equity. It’s getting people access to moving around. It’s just not something that’s going to make a huge amount of money if you want to make it accessible. So if I, if I, if I could have changed anything I would never have I would never have switched it over to Motivate. But the challenge then was, I mean, if we hadn’t done that at that time, I mean, I know why we probably would not have been able to launch the next year because we were so out of, you know, we just our usage income had just dropped because of all of the, the competition from, you know, the other bike shares.

Sherry: [00:25:17] What, what just backing up. What what role did Blue Cross play in that when my understanding was that they funded a lot of it.

Melissa: [00:25:26] They were our title sponsor. Yeah. Blue Cross was really involved and they were a really good partner. And they stayed on after Motivate took over. But really they but they pulled out. I mean, when they the reason that Motivate pulled out of the market is because Blue Cross decided that they weren’t going to continue to, to sponsor Nice Ride. And I was not involved. I was gone by then, so I had nothing to do with that. But if I ran the world…

Alasdair: [00:25:52] Yeah, for sure. The loss of the Blue Cross Blue Shield money was pretty much the the main and only reason why Lyft decided that they weren’t going to continue offering bike share here, just because that left such a huge, enormous gap in the budget because it was, you know, a major part of the funding for the bike share system.

Sherry: [00:26:13] What did we lose when we lost Nice Ride?

Melissa: [00:26:17] Well, we lost a lot of opportunities for people to bike ride bikes and to get to work and to, you know, go around the lakes. And I just think that the community, you know, people would you know, I used to say that you never saw anyone on a Nice Ride who didn’t look like they were having a good time.

Melissa: [00:26:35] And there was just kind of a community feel, you know, even like a have you ever seen the Larry Gets Lost books? About this little kid, a dog getting lost in all these different cities. And there’s Larry Gets Lost in Minneapolis has has them looking for Larry the dog on Nice Ride bikes in the book. Yeah. And so they were kind of emblematic I think they were of of the Twin Cities, you know, people would see the nice ride bikes and, and know exactly, you know, what they are and what they’re for. So I think we lost that. We lost a big asset when, when Nice Ride went away. Yeah.

Alasdair: [00:27:10] And even speaking for after the the merger to Motivate when still things look like they were going down more a corporate, less community focused route. Lyft and Motivate were still by and far more engaged with the city at meeting the equity goals and the the requirements for distribution and, you know, pricing structures and things. They were they were much more engaged in that conversation than any of the other bike share providers, you know, to my knowledge, around town. So we still made made a as best of an effort as we could, and we did a good job of meeting the city’s goals for keeping, you know, a certain percentage of the fleet in North Minneapolis or Phillips or areas that are more disadvantaged. So we I think we lost a partner that was willing to to work to improve the city and bicycle access for all of Minneapolis, rather than just coming in and making as much money as they can by having almost no overhead and doing no maintenance and things like that.

Sherry: [00:28:11] So what a new, newer bike share systems that you’re seeing now have that maybe Nice Ride lacked?

Melissa: [00:28:19] Electric bikes. It would have been really nice to have to be able to offer electric. Because they had, Nice Ride had electric bikes at the end and they were free floating e-bikes, I think just open up the possibility of riding a bike to more people. It’s, you know, you don’t show up at work drenched with sweat. If you’re if you rode on an e-bike, you know, if you’re less fit, you can an e-bike will help you get get moving. You know. So I see the future of if there is another bike share coming in, it’s going to have to be have to have electric bikes, I think, which is another whole can of worms for charging.

Alasdair: [00:28:59] The electric bikes that motivate brought on were great and did work pretty well. I liked that they had a cable lock on them and you know, users were supposed to lock them to something you’re legally allowed to lock a bike to, which is the case for all of the bike share. I think that’s a requirement the city put in for bikes. In this market, you get lots of complaints that they’re not locked to things. They’re in the sidewalk and cluttering up up the area. One thing that Motivate brought in was little bike share rack or bike racks that we put-

Speaker5: [00:29:31] The blue bike racks you see.

Alasdair: [00:29:32] Bike racks, which are now, you know, Lyft donated to the city essentially, that they’re all back in the same places where there were Nice Ride stations, but now they’re sort of city owned, just more bike parking infrastructure, which is great.

Melissa: [00:29:47] And they’re nice bike racks.

Alasdair: [00:29:48] They are nice bike racks.

Sherry: [00:29:50] So I worked at HOURCAR way back before the Evie program, and I remember how many-

Melissa: [00:29:55] I didn’t know you worked for HOURCAR.

Sherry: [00:29:57] Oh, you didn’t know that? Yes, I did. I was in Member Services. I remember really struggling with the Priuses at the time and the battery problems with the Priuses overnight, especially on cold nights. And now I’m wondering what it’s like for you now with the EVs and what that might teach us about anybody who would want to start up again with electric bike with an electric bikes.

Melissa: [00:30:20] Yeah, well, I’ll tell you, I drove the I had an EV before we were able to launch them. They got recalled and so they were all in storage. So I just I used one because we were trying to prevent lot rot. So we were just cycling through. Although we did have two that got completely infested with mice.

Sherry: [00:30:36] [laughter]

Melissa: [00:30:37] Oh well but I drove one over over the course of, of a whole winter and it was a cold winter and it did fine. It lost a little bit, maybe 10% of range, which is not very much. I was impressed, I was expecting to have to plug the thing in constantly and it I did not notice any significant loss of range in the winter. Yeah I was that was nice. And electric bikes are probably I mean I have an electric bike. I should see what it does in the winter.

Sherry: [00:31:04] I know I’ve been meaning to try mine out when it gets cold too. Alasdair, how about you? Have you noticed any battery issues?

Alasdair: [00:31:12] The black free floating electric bikes that we had at Nice Ride definitely needed more battery swapping in the winter. But Nice Ride also shut down in the winter and pulled all the bikes in, so we missed the worst of it. And I haven’t been at HOURCAR long enough to see really cold weather. I mean, we had a little bit of a chilly snap week or so ago, and even that you could, you could see that there were more cars that needed charging. It definitely has an impact, but I think battery technology is increased and improved a lot since the first days of electric cars, when you really couldn’t use them in the winter, it seemed like.

Melissa: [00:31:51] Our chargers are connected to the power grid. Which is nice because Nice Ride stations were all solar. So as the as the days got shorter and it got colder out the batteries and the stations would start dying. We’d have to swap batteries out of the stations. So that was always fun.

Alasdair: [00:32:10] Yeah, it was always battery Armageddon. Yeah.

Sherry: [00:32:14] So yeah, we’ve got some weather. Certainly we did. The Twin Cities have any other unique challenges when it comes to something like bikeshare funding structures, other challenges that might be unique to here?

Alasdair: [00:32:28] Certainly the weather is is an issue, but I mean, bikeshare in Chicago works year round and it does just fine. And Chicago doesn’t have massively different winters than we do.

Melissa: [00:32:38] But they’re year round.

Alasdair: [00:32:39] They are year round. Yeah. And it but Chicago is a significantly more dense city than Minneapolis. I think Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the metro area just sits honestly, maybe just below the density level that’s needed to really run a really sustainable, successful bike share. There’s a lot of single family home homes in Minneapolis, which you know is definitely changing. As you look at construction around town, there’s more density getting built all over the place, it seems.

Sherry: [00:33:09] And the inclusionary zoning stuff that’s going on in the Cities, too.

Alasdair: [00:33:12] Yeah, no longer required single family zoning.

Melissa: [00:33:14] The thing that also was different about Nice Ride was that it was a nonprofit and it was not it was not municipally owned. The vast majority of I’m trying to think of another bikeshare system that’s not owned by the city it’s in, and I can’t I don’t think there is. Well, the one in Florida, the one in down in Miami, the there’s one that’s privately owned. But other than that, I think all the rest of them are municipally owned. So that was one thing that was very unique about Nice Ride was that it was not a city owned or a government owned program.

Sherry: [00:33:42] Well, actually, that was my next question is like, what is the private market not doing that a non profit or a government entity might be able to do better?

Melissa: [00:33:51] Well, the government has more money than nonprofits too. I mean, it frankly just comes down to funding. You know, the if you if there’s enough funding available to run a bike share system, we could start one up tomorrow. But, you know, there’s just not there’s not the funding for it unfortunately.

Alasdair: [00:34:10] Yeah. I think as well a government or a nonprofit has a better ability or will to push for missions and social goods that are not necessarily aligned with the profit motive. So they have the ability to promote bike usage or, or shared car usage in neighborhoods where it’s not currently viable and try and increase access to more people, which I think is a really good thing. Whereas, you know, a business is going to come in a private corporation and maybe not see as much value as in investing as those areas. Yeah. And chase the dollar somewhere else.

Sherry: [00:34:53] I know that people got really excited when HOURCAR started working with Metro Transit to use to cards. Right. How might Bike Share be integrated into Metro Transit’s product offerings? Where do you see that as a possibility?

Melissa: [00:35:07] Well, I always thought that it would make sense to have some integration with I think didn’t didn’t we get we got into the Metro Transit’s app where you could see bike stations.

Alasdair: [00:35:18] We were in the Transit app, transit. Which is not the Metro Transit app, but is like an app on its own that shows like-

Melissa: [00:35:26] It’s a really good app.

Alasdair: [00:35:27] It is a really good app, show you all sorts of transit options for where you want to go.

Melissa: [00:35:30] But I think that integrating buses, trains, car share, bike share scooters, even, you know, if they were all kind of made into one streamlined system, I think it makes a lot of sense because that would be, you know, it would just be able to coordinate a little better, have better placement of if we have stations or bike, bike infrastructure. I don’t know, it just I’ve always thought it would make a lot of sense to have all of the shared transportation under one umbrella. But that’s, you know, when I run the run the world, that’s how things work.

Alasdair: [00:36:03] Yeah, it definitely makes a lot of sense. But I think there’s some work to do to shift, you know, mentalities around biking, to really view it as a mode of transportation and part of transit, where. Think for a lot of people, it’s still sort of sits outside of that as a recreational fun thing. And, you know, having people realize that it’s an important and necessary part of a transit network really makes you see that it needs to be aligned with the transit card or, you know, buses, trains and part of the holistic view of transit in the area.

Sherry: [00:36:39] So we we have a lot of folks. I have a lot of folks in my life who dream of restarting the bike share in the cities in some way. And I know from just very short conversations with the both of you that funding is a massive thing. What other advice do you have for anybody who would love to see a sustainable bike share option in the Twin Cities?

Melissa: [00:37:04] Well, I think building a relationship with the city government. I worked very closely with the permit department when I was doing station placement, and the permit departments in both cities were really good to work with because I worked on having that relationship and, you know, pushing a little bit. If I got pushed back on where I wanted to put a station, you know, and they kind of got the Minneapolis guys kind of really got into it, they were… Developers is another, people building. We had a developers call and request stations at their new buildings because it helped with their Leed certification. So I think a relationship with with building developers and property management companies, it would be important because then you could be placing bike stations or placing bikes at multifamily living places. It’s really just a matter of making building a community around this and involving as many people as you can. You know, things like the Northpoint Health Center up North Minneapolis. We worked with a lot with getting folks on bikes up in up in North. So I would that’s what I would recommend is make make a lot of friends, go in there with, you know, enthusiastically and and sell it.

Alasdair: [00:38:24] Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot to sell the good, good bikeshare system. And I would definitely love to see one return to the area. It’s one thing that Nice Ride got a little bit trapped under is the, the cost of the equipment that we had. All the stations was such a large cost, both for, you know, purchasing and maintaining them, that we were sort of on the wrong foot when the tide came moving towards all the technology and equipment being on the bike and the the station either not existing or being just a regular bike rack. But I think that’s a that mode of a bike share system is more sustainable and certainly easier to start up.

Melissa: [00:39:06] A stationless one?

Alasdair: [00:39:07] Yeah, a stationless one. If you’re not needing to invest huge amounts of money into this technology that’s going to go obsolete in five years.

Melissa: [00:39:15] Yeah. Well, and just moving those stations the whole process of deployment and take out was quite a we had to get all those stations off the street hopefully before it snowed.

Sherry: [00:39:27] Oh wow. Yeah. For sidewalk plowing.

Melissa: [00:39:29] Every, every November and or beginning of December. November 2nd. Very very well. We were usually done by Thanksgiving. Yeah.

Alasdair: [00:39:36] We were usually.

Melissa: [00:39:38] And then deployment, you know, once the snow clears, you can’t put the stations out while there’s still snow on the ground. So that was always a big and that was a gigantic expense. We had a construction company that worked with us and really gave us a good deal on the use of their equipment. I mean, they built the equipment for us that were and they were amazing. They were so, so good.

Sherry: [00:39:57] Where did you store those giant racks in the wintertime?

Speaker5: [00:40:00] The state fair? Yeah, in the education building.

Alasdair: [00:40:03] State fair, the education building. And then after that we stored them at our our shop and warehouse had a big, big lot that we would store them in.

Melissa: [00:40:12] And some of them we would leave out on the street over winter if they were in a spot that would that that would work for like we couldn’t obviously leave them in the street.

Alasdair: [00:40:19] But somewhere on like boulevard grass. Yeah, things like that where they could stay.

Sherry: [00:40:23] And so I’m hearing have good relationships with civic officials, with city officials and civic and.

Melissa: [00:40:29] Businesses.

Sherry: [00:40:30] Businesses, developers, I’m hearing, have a plan for maintenance and make the racks less important than the actual bikes, and maybe even the free floating model. Anything else? Any other piece of advice that you would give?

Melissa: [00:40:48] I mean, in my end of it is, you know, there was more on the hands on get your get your hands.

Sherry: [00:40:56] Especially with maintenance.

Melissa: [00:40:57] I mean, you have to have a relationship with a bike shop or have in-house mechanics. I mean, we could potentially I could see having a couple of bike shops that will do the work on bikes for us. Yeah, that could work.

Alasdair: [00:41:09] Depends on how big the system is. Right. We had thousands of bikes, you know, by the time Nice Ride shut down. So we had a team of 8 or 9 mechanics in shop that were just fixing them all around the clock, not round the clock, but.

Sherry: [00:41:23] And was there a physical shop?

Alasdair: [00:41:25] Yeah. We had yeah, we had a physical shop in a, in a warehouse location where, you know, the street team would go out and pick up bikes that were flagged for damage or mechanics would go out and try and fix bikes that were flagged for damage in the, in the street and then bring back ones that they couldn’t weren’t like a quick fix, brake adjustment or whatever, and bring them back to the warehouse for the, you know, the depot team to fix and then send back out the door once they were ready to go.

Sherry: [00:41:49] Gotcha.

Melissa: [00:41:50] Yeah. So all the bikes would get fixed up over the winter. So every one got touched, at least.

Sherry: [00:41:56] Anything else that you would love to share about your history with this subject or your hopes for the future?

Alasdair: [00:42:04] I mean, I would hope that we could see a bike share come back more as a as a transit option run by, you know, whoever it would be, like the city or the Metro Transit, the regional transportation management agency, or really something that’s focused on being a public good and providing a service to the community rather than a, you know, something that’s using the public right of way to make a profit.

Melissa: [00:42:34] Agreed. I think a private company could do it. It just would have to come in with the expectation that it’s. It’s a lot of work. I mean, it is it’s it is hard work to keep a system going. And that’s why you need the support of the community to get it, to get it to go. Yeah. I would love to see it come back, though.

Alasdair: [00:42:56] Yeah, I’d love to see it come back in a way that pushes for increasing better access to bikes and bike infrastructure in the areas of town that don’t have it. So if it can be a a tool to be used to create better bike lanes or better bike infrastructure, because there are bikes in that area and people start using them, I think that’ll make a better city.

Sherry: [00:43:17] Alasdair, Melissa, thank you so much.

Alasdair: [00:43:21] Thank you. Yeah.

Ian: [00:43:25] Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Streets.mn Podcast. This show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial Non-derivative license, so feel free to republish the episode as long as you’re not altering it and you are not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Eric Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was produced by Sherry Johnson with assistance from Christina Neel and Jeremy Winter, and was edited by me, Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the Streets.mn Podcast, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [podcast@streets.mn]. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using #StreetsMNPodcast. Until next time, take care.

About Sherry Johnson

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Sherry Johnson gets feisty about sustainability and localism. A complexity coach, adaptive strategist, and amplifier of counter-narratives, Sherry supports civic and nonprofit leaders as Principal Guide at Cultivate Strategy.

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Ian is a podcaster and teacher. He grew up in Saint Paul, and currently lives in Minneapolis. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation, and wants to make it possible for more people to do so as well! "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"