When Nice Ride Minnesota announced earlier this week that it had chosen a New York firm to run a new dockless bike-sharing system, St. Paul was conspicuously absent from the communiqué.
That was by design.
Kathy Lantry, St. Paul’s director of Public Works, says the city wholeheartedly supports bike sharing, but the Nice Ride proposal raised some questions among officials in the capitol city. Can a nonprofit organization like Nice Ride negotiate a contract with a business — in this case, New York-based Motivate International Inc. — for exclusive bike-sharing rights in the Twin Cities and at the University of Minnesota?
Nice Ride intended all along for St. Paul to be part of a new dockless bike system. But St. Paul officials “were advised that we have to do our own process,” Lantry said on Friday.
It’s unclear at this point how it all will turn out. In coming months, city officials will discuss bike-sharing strategies in St. Paul, with an eye toward linking any system with Minneapolis and surrounding communities.
In the meantime, Nice Ride’s bright green bikes will continue to be available on a seasonal basis until 2021.
Launched in 2010, Nice Ride bikes began appearing throughout the Twin Cities, largely funded through federal dollars with help from private entities, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. Today, there are more than 1,850 bikes available at 200 docking stations across the metro.
Users of Nice Ride pedal bikes from station to station. But the dockless model is quickly taking hold — where cyclists use smartphone apps to locate and rent bikes anywhere and leave them locked wherever they please. Some cities, such as Washington, D.C., have both docked and dockless bike-sharing systems in place.
Many of the firms providing dockless bikes are funded by private investors who have poured billions into the bike-sharing business. While this has resulted in lower costs to rent bikes and more availability, there have been problems associated with low-quality bikes parked chaotically in public places.
Following a public hearing last fall, and a review of finalists Motivate and LimeBike by an evaluation committee, Nice Ride said on Tuesday it had chosen Motivate to run the new system. Now, Nice Ride’s federal funders, the city of Minneapolis, its park board and the university must approve the contract.
Part of the deal involves Motivate taking over Nice Ride operations, including its 35 employees. Motivate is North America’s leading bike-sharing firm, operating in urban areas such as New York, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Nice Ride Executive Director Bill Dossett said Friday he was a little frustrated with St. Paul’s decision, but noted everyone shares the common goal of “getting a lot of people riding bikes.”
An exclusive contract with a firm would ensure some leverage over the dockless operation, he said. That includes ensuring that high-quality bikes will be used, and that they would be continually repositioned in the Twin Cities so a broader swath of customers would have access to them. Other goals include integrating winter-equipped and electric pedal-assist bikes into the system, and adding ways for people to pay with cash.
Lantry said St. Paul has similar equity goals for a dockless system. “Bike sharing — docked or dockless — is a great thing for the city, we want that as an amenity for our residents and we want to have a complementary system with Minneapolis,” she said. “I think there’s a way to accomplish that.”
Minneapolis Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson said the city “is in a different situation than St. Paul, we have an existing and active contract with Nice Ride that we’re working under.” With the new dockless proposal, city officials will be “reviewing that agreement for consistency,” she said.