St. Paul faces the prospect of a summer without bike sharing after its vendor dropped the service eight months after signing a contract with the city.
In August, St. Paul contracted with Lime to provide dockless bike sharing, and as a result Nice Ride removed its docks at the end of the season. After Lime said it wanted to focus on scooters, officials are now scrambling to find a new vendor.
“I think it will annoy a lot of people” if there’s no bike sharing in St. Paul this year, said Nate Hood, who occasionally used Nice Ride to commute from downtown Minneapolis to his home in St. Paul.
The San Francisco-based startup has also ditched bike sharing in some other cities around the country.
“After listening to customer and community feedback, we determined the best way we can partner with the community is by applying to serve as a scooter provider,” Nico Probst, Lime’s manager of Midwest strategic development, said in a statement to the Star Tribune.
St. Paul has had bike sharing since Nice Ride’s dock-based system arrived there in 2011. Last year, the city asked for proposals for a dockless bike system, and Lime won the contract.
Reuben Collins, a transportation engineer for the city, said it will request proposals for a new bike share provider in the coming weeks and hope to find a vendor that could start this season.
The bike sharing contract with Lime says the company would staff an operations center by March 31 and deploy a minimum of 500 bicycles within four weeks of launching. Collins said the city and Lime are now discussing how to terminate the contract.
“The city and Lime are in agreement that if Lime doesn’t want to be operating the bike share system, we don’t want to try and force them to do so,” Collins said.
Nice Ride, meanwhile, is rolling out big plans for electric bicycles and more dockless options in Minneapolis.
The service is now operated by Lyft, which purchased the previous operator Motivate in 2018. It plans to offer pedal-assist electric bikes around Minneapolis this year, install more places to rent bikes — especially in economically distressed areas — and offer lower fares for low-income riders.
Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride, said local governments and the University of Minnesota should be coordinating their approach to bike sharing, potentially through joint powers agreements. That would give them added leverage in negotiations — to ensure repercussions if the firm pulls out, for example — and ensure more consistency across the metro area, he said.
“We need our cities to bargain with these new privately funded entrepreneurs to make sure that what we’re getting in return for access to our streets and sidewalks is that quality, that reliability, that equity,” Dossett said. “And we believe that they will get there if they act jointly.”
Asked whether Nice Ride could mobilize its fleet into St. Paul this season, Dossett said it can move quickly.
In the short-term, Nice Ride is busy escalating operations in Minneapolis.
“We’ve got a lot to do in the next three weeks and we’re going to do it,” Dossett said. “And at the same time we are super excited to talk to St. Paul.”