Mayor R.T. Rybak took a Nice Ride bike for a spin earlier this month near the Government Center in Minneapolis.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Honesty makes new policy for Twin Cities bike-sharing program

  • Article by: BILL McAULIFFE
  • Star Tribune
  • April 29, 2012 - 9:49 PM

Twin Cities bike sharers are being rewarded for good behavior.

A deposit on Nice Ride bikes, which was $250 per bike two years ago, has been erased this year because so few bikes disappeared in the program's first two seasons.

That's few as in none.

"People were predicting theft rates of 3 percent per year, but our actual thefts have been zero," said Bill Dossett, executive director of the Nice Ride program, which is beginning its third season in the Twin Cities. "We purchased 1,200 bikes, and we still have 1,200 bikes."

Nice Ride has become a familiar part of the core cities' warm-weather streetscape, with racks of chartreuse, built-for-comfort bikes at busy commercial, academic and entertainment nodes. For a basic fee, riders can check out a bike from a rack and return it to another, or the same one, within 30 minutes without incurring an additional fee. Bikes and racks returned to the streets in early April.

Dossett said the combination of the bikes' short-hop functionality, "radio frequency" rental and tracking system, and heavy duty locking mechanisms have turned out to be an effective self-securing system. Nice Ride came up one bike short at the end of the 2010 season, but that bike was returned last June.

The $250 "authorization hold" was a sore point, Dossett said, particularly for people who rang it up on a debit card, making $250 unavailable to them from their accounts. Last year it was reduced to $50. "I'm thrilled to be able to say that's all gone," he said.

Nice Ride is adding 130 bikes this year as part of its expansion into downtown St. Paul. Twenty-six new racks will be distributed in and near downtown and the State Capitol. Dossett predicts the bikes will get heavy use from state employees.

The nearly $1 million expansion is being funded by the National Park Service, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative. Blue Cross Blue Shield has invested nearly $2 million in Nice Ride.

This year, Blue Cross Blue Shield also has purchased 10,000 helmets, which will be given away on group rides and at other special events.

Nice Ride riders, who tend to be dressed in work or street clothes, have been criticized for not wearing helmets. But Dossett said there has not been a single injury to a Nice Ride biker.

One concern with the St. Paul operation is an expected downhill flow of bikes. Borrowers are likely to check out bikes on the high ground near the Capitol or St. Paul Cathedral, ride down to the Mississippi riverfront or Harriet Island, then find an easier way back up.

"It'll be a challenge for us to keep the system balanced," Dossett said.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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