Why is One of the Nation’s Oldest Bikesharing Systems Going Dockless?

By September 11, 2017News

Nice Ride Minnesota, which originally launched in 2010 as one of the nation’s first bikeshare programs, recently announced its plans to transition to a dockless system that uses GPS and on-bike tech to track and rent bikes instead of docking stations and kiosks.

Nice Ride, a nonprofit organization, has posted an RFP to its website to find a private vendor to provide dockless bikes to customers. The selected company will also continue to operate and maintain the system’s existing bikeshare equipment as Nice Ride transitions from an operating organization to a contracting organization.

“Over the last six months, the bikeshare industry has changed and grown at levels exceeding our highest expectations,” said Nice Ride in its RFP. “The turning point was the introduction of a new business model of bikes that don’t need docking stations…These dockless bikes are less expensive to deploy and maintain than station-based bikes, offering consumers both convenience and lower costs.”

While other cities such as Seattle have opened up their streets to dockless bikeshare providers like Bluegogo, Spin and Limebike, the Twin Cities is one of the first with a functioning, dock-based bikeshare system to do so.

With its equipment beginning to age (35% of bikes currently in service date back to Nice Ride’s launch in 2010), switching to a private operator may be a good opportunity to avoid replacement costs and get ahead of the dockless trend. Having a flexible system could also allow the Twin Cities to experiment with more varied offerings, such as switching to a smaller winter fleet of bikes with features like fat tires and handlebar mitts.

However, it also remains to be seen if a dockless system will get the same buy-in as the Nice Ride program, and whether dockless bikesharing will have the same visibility, placemaking and land-use impacts as a more traditional, dock-based system.

In China, the dockless bikesharing boom has resulted in more than 16 million shared bicycles and 70-plus operators backed by more than $1 billion in financing. However, the dockless model has also led to some abuses, including stolen, damaged and discarded bikes. To address those concerns, Nice Ride’s RFP mandates that respondents include plans to assure that bikes parked improperly in the public right of way are quickly removed, and that that lights, brakes and other components of bikes critical to safe operation are functioning properly.

The RFP also highlights Nice Ride’s longstanding commitment to bikeshare equity, and stipulates that proposals should include ways that operators will serve and promote ridership in diverse communities.

As part of Nice Ride’s evolution, the organization will be restructuring its board of directors to include local public right-of-way stakeholders such as the City of Minneapolis, the City of St. Paul and the University of Minnesota. Nice Ride also hopes to see its staff of 35 become employees of the new bikeshare contractor.

While it’s not clear yet what the future of Nice Ride holds, we may not have to wait long to learn more—RFP responses are due September 22. In the meantime, to keep up to date on the latest developments in bikesharing, carsharing, ride-hailing and other forms of shared mobility, be sure to sign up for SUMC’s weekly newsletter.

Image credit: Nice Ride Minnesota