Jan 7, 2010

Bike Sharing in the 612

Bike sharing is coming to Minneapolis as soon as this year, it seems. When I first heard of this I admit that I was highly skeptical; we have all heard of bike sharing programs where the bikes got stolen or broken or both in short time and that was the end of the program.

After reviewing the Nice Ride Minnesota website and looking at the business plan for Nice Ride, I have to say that this venture seems to be better thought-out than I expected, and I think it just might work. How this is planned to work is that locked bikes would be available to everyone that subscribes to use them at kiosks set up around the service area; to get a bike users will swipe a card, take the bike and ride to another kiosk where they will lock it up again. subscriptions will cost $50/year, $15/week or $5/day. The first half hour is free (after your subscription, that is) and they charge after that to encourage people to get the bikes back into the kiosks.

The program is being championed by Mayor Rybak and funded by the federal government through Bike Walk Twin Cities to the tune of $1.75 million and a $1.0 million donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.

The business plan calls for the program to be run by a non-profit corporation that will be capitalized with public subsidy and private contributions; it will use this capital to purchase the equipment necessary to operate a bike-sharing program. The non-profit entity will generate 80% of its operating revenue from subscription sales or other user fees - the remaining 20% will come from business partner sponsorships. The revenue should be sufficient to
  • pay on-going operating costs (the largest costs are anticipated to be maintenance, system operating contracts, payroll, replacements due to theft and vandalism, and insurance)
  • build community outreach programs to support the program
  • accrue sufficient reserves to replace bikes and kiosks when they are at the end of their service life (about 5 years for bikes and 10 years for kiosks).
It is anticipated that the non-profit would execute two purchase agreements with a system vendor; the first would be an initial purchase agreement for the bikes, kiosks and installations services; the second purchase agreement would cover a software license and operating agreement.

The phase 1 service area will include the downtown CBD, the U of M campus and Uptown:

A number of local businesses have already sponsored kiosks, including: Augsburg College, Grant Thornton, Abbot Northwestern Hospital, Dorsey & Whitney, Seward Co-op, Wedge Co-op, Equal Exchange, Peace Coffee, Birchwood Cafe, Dero Bike Rack Co., and Aveda.

The program is scheduled to kick-off in May. Like I said earlier, the business plan is well-thought out. One question that comes to mind is how many people will actually subscribe for the program and whether the subscriptions will be sufficient to keep the program viable for the long-haul. Also, the issue of vandalism and theft is also an important variable - if the replacement costs get too high, that would be an obvious challenge to sustaining this program. I hope it works.


  1. I assume I am excluded by living in Woodbury. I wish public transportation was easier out here and biking.

  2. Unfortunately the service area doesn't seem to extend out to Woodbury. But you will be able to use this if you come to the city (think parking where it's cheaper, ride along the river and then cross the Stone Arch Bridge to have lunch at St. Anthony Main all on a bike share bike). More reason to come on over!!

  3. I talked to representatives from this company last spring on Bike to Work day. They said you can register for the service online and their website would automatically track the number of times you used it, how long you had the bike and how far you went. They were promoting it as a social media type construct, where you can interact with other bike users as well. It sounded interesting.

  4. I have my doubts about bike sharing in the US. I don't think it is going to work until we have a safe downtown bike network, so non-bikers would take advantage of the program. It would be great if companies could pay a portion for workers as encouragement.

  5. I agee, shishi. I am contemplating buying an annual pass for my office so loan out to guests, but I worry a little bit about the traffic, and shortly after that I feel like if I do this, then I should probably provide a helmet, too. Then I realize heads are not all the same size and I don't want to stock a variety of helmets. I have a few months left to ponder what I am going to do here, but I agree - a poor bike network will make the success of this more challenging.