Nice Ride Minnesota is looking to bring the popular bike sharing program, to Rochester, Minn.
The program's title sponsor, Blue Cross Blue Shield, just approved funding for the nonprofit to hire somebody for the newly created position of Director of Greater Minnesota Strategies. That person will explore possibilities of expanding Nice Ride to cities and communities outside its current service area of Minneapolis and St. Paul proper.
At Blue Cross' request, the new hire will start by investigating the feasibility of putting a Nice Ride satellite system in Rochester. Blue Cross likes the idea of Rochester because it home to the Mayo Clinic and has a population density downtown that could support the program, said spokesman Anthony Ongaro.
Nice Ride also will be looking at other places to expand, Ongaro said. Suburbs such as Bloomington and Richfield could work too, he said.
Expansion, if it happens, would not occur until 2014 at the earliest.
Service in smaller cities likely would be different from what is offered in the Twin Cities. Here, stations are scattered throughout the city. Riders can pick up and return bikes at more than 170 locations. Users have 30 minutes to complete their trip.
In places such as Rochester where there is a significant population but much lower than in the Twin Cities, service might resemble a bike library. Just like a library where users check out a book for a specified period of time, riders would check out a bike for a period of time.
The news about possible expansion comes as Nice Ride reported Tuesday that overall ridership for the 2013 season is lagging about 15 percent behind last year's pace. Total trips taken this summer are 76,241 compared with 86,026 taken last year at this time.
Ongaro attributes the lower overall numbers to the late-arriving spring. On "ridable days" (ie. sunny or warm of which there have been few), he said the number of trips each day is averaging just over 2,200, which is higher than the daily average recorded in 2012.
Just last weekend, Nice Ride had 8,000 rentals over a three-day period, Ongaro said. Two weeks ago on June 8, Nice Ride logged 2,400 trips, just 300 shy of the all-time single day record.
"When it's nice, people do get out," he said.