Dockless bike share may be on the docket for 2018

Access to a working bicycle is one of the biggest barriers to people biking.

It might become easier to access bicycles in 2018 as Nice Ride Minnesota — operator of the green bike-share bikes since 2010 — is considering private proposals for thousands of new bike-share bikes in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Their vision is many more bikes available at much lower costs — likely $1 a trip, or even less with discounted rates.

This shift has the potential to change the local landscape for biking and support hundreds of thousands more bike rides.

Dockless bike share

Fundamental to the shift will be a move away from the current docked Nice Ride model where you get a bike at a station and have to return it at a station.

Instead, the proposals are for “dockless” bike share, where customers locate, access and lock bikes using a smartphone app. Without stations, bike share is less expensive and can potentially serve areas where stations are not viable today.

Dockless bike share has taken off in China in recent years — with the amazing impact leading some to call it one of China’s “four great new inventions” — and is expanding around the world. In the United States, dockless bike share has opened in Seattle, Dallas and Washington, D.C. this year, with many more systems expected soon. The rapid expansion is being fueled by private companies that have attracted more than $1 billion in venture capital.

Seattle, Washington, D.C and several other U.S. cities have created regulations for dockless bike share and then opened it up for competing companies. Seattle has at least 3 competing bike share companies.

Nice Ride’s proactive approach

Rather than waiting for dockless bike share companies to come knocking on the door in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the non-profit Nice Ride Minnesota has taken a very proactive approach. They determined they can better serve their customers and advance their mission by transitioning to a dockless system funded by a private company.

“It is great to have the possibility of 10,000 more bikes and being able to support many more people biking,” said Nice Ride Executive Director Bill Dossett.

In August, Nice Ride issued a request for proposals for the “transition of the Twin Cities bike share system.” From that RFP, they have narrowed down to two finalists: Lime Bike and Motivate.

In either case, Nice Ride would be working with that company and, ideally, the City of Minneapolis, City of St. Paul, University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to transition bike share to dockless over the next couple years.

Nice Ride plans to retain their station system and bikes in 2018, so renewing your membership is still a great idea. To that, they would transition in thousands of new dockless bikes from their new partner.

Hear from the finalists

In partnership with Nice Ride, Our Streets Minneapolis and the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition are co-hosting a public opportunity for people to hear from the two bike share finalists on their visions for bike share on Monday, Nov. 6 from 7 p.m.–8:30 p.m. atMacalester College Campus Center, 3 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul.

Both LimeBike and Motivate will present on their proposals at the event. People can offer feedback at the meeting or by sending an email to proposals@niceridemn.org before 5 p.m. on the Nov. 7.

For more information, go to niceridemn.org.

Questions remain

There is a lot of local excitement about the future of dockless bike share, but there are also questions.

Nice Ride’s Dossett recognizes that “our big ask is that the cities, University of Minnesota and Park Board work together with us” for shared vision of future of bike share. Each entity has to determine whether they want to work with a single vendor or how they want to regulate bike share.

There are questions about where bikes will be available and whom they will benefit; where bikes can park and how they are dealt with if they are parked poorly; maintenance; and long-term sustainability. Nice Ride is making the case that all these questions can be best answered by working together.

Regardless of the final choices, bike share in the Twin Cities will likely be changing soon.

There are a number of private bike share companies looking at the Twin Cities, and most observers think that dockless bike share will be here, one way or another, starting in 2018. It’s exciting to think how that will continue to support growth in biking locally.

Our Streets Minneapolis and Nice Ride Minnesota hosted a happy hour on the future of bike share in September. You can learn even more about that at ourstreetsmpls.org/dockless_bikeshare_coming_to_minneapolis_in_2018.

 

Ethan Fawley is executive director of Our Streets Minneapolis.

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