Nice Ride Minnesota is looking to bring the popular bike-sharing program to Rochester.

The program’s title sponsor, Blue Cross Blue Shield, just approved funding to hire a director of Greater Minnesota Strategies to explore expanding Nice Ride to communities outside its current service area of Minneapolis and St. Paul proper.

The new director will start by investigating the feasibility of putting a Nice Ride satellite system in Rochester, said Nice Ride spokesman Anthony Ongaro.

Blue Cross likes the idea of Rochester because it is home to the Mayo Clinic and has a population density downtown that could support the program, Ongaro said.

Nice Ride will look 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, where stations are scattered throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. Riders can pick up and return bikes at more than 170 locations. Users pay a subscription fee plus a trip fee.

In smaller cities such as Rochester, 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 decline to the late-arriving spring.

On the few “ridable days” (i.e., sunny or warm), he said the number of trips each day averages just over 2,200, which is higher than the daily average recorded in 2012.

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 single-day record.

“When it’s nice, people do get out,” he said.