After years of duplicative efforts, Minneapolis and St. Paul will work together to find common vendors to operate shared scooter and bike services next year instead of each city trying to do it separately.

The University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board also are included in the Shared Bike and Scooter Program (SBSP), which aims to find the same vendors willing to serve all four entities.

"Ultimately, our goal is to have a cohesive transportation system across the Twin Cities," said Danielle Elkins, mobility manager for the city of Minneapolis.

The partnership could be a boon for St. Paul, which has not had a bike share program since 2018.

Consumers should also benefit. With different programs — or none — operating in the two cities, riding a shared bike and in some cases a scooter from Minneapolis to St. Paul was not possible. It would be if the same vendor served both cities.

"Roads don't stop at the border; why should a bike or scooter?" said Frank Douma, of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. With the same vendor operating on both sides of the river, "it opens up new trip options and more choices."

That prospect excites Annie Olson, director of Customer Service for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

"We decided it would serve us all well if we shopped for providers together and moved forward as a unit," she said.

Minneapolis will lead the way in soliciting vendors to provide the services once the Minneapolis City Council and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board sign off on the idea, which is expected during meetings this month. The St. Paul City Council gave its approval on Sept. 9.

"We believe a collaborative and regional approach to shared mobility has potential to improve the quality of services provided to the entire region," said Reuben Collins, St. Paul's transportation planning manager. "It is consistent with St. Paul's stated policy objectives to promote shared mobility as part of a broader approach to promote transportation equity and address climate change."

In Minneapolis, Lyft and Bird operated scooters this year, and Lyft operated a shared bike program that included the shiny green bikes many equate with Nice Ride Minnesota. St. Paul did have scooters this year through contracts with Bird and Lime.

Minneapolis has had a shared bike program since 2010 and scooters since 2018. Shared bikes and scooters have also been available at the U.

Bike-share and scooter-share programs, like most sectors of transportation, took a big hit last year due to the pandemic, but many systems across the county have rebounded. By the end of 2020, ridership nationwide was within 20% of pre-COVID levels in 2019, and about half of systems reported an increase in first-time riders, according to a report from the North American Bikeshare & Scootershare Association.

Americans made more than 67.9 million trips on bikes and scooters in 2020, according to the report. Trips taken on electric-assisted bikes, also called e-bikes, jumped from 7 million in 2019 to nearly 10 million last year, the report said.

"It is viable transportation," Douma said. "People like the ability to get from Point A to Point B and drop a vehicle."

The partnership covering multiple jurisdictions could help attract the services both cities want, Douma said.

Cities such as Boston, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Detroit have combined regional and suburban bike share systems into one.

Denver settled on a model that contracted with only two operators, giving them exclusivity to succeed while also ensuring stability for residents should something happen to one of them, said Kiran Herbert, with the Colo­rado-based nonprofit People for Bikes.

"It makes a lot sense to make sense to work across jurisdictions," said Alex Engel with the National Association of City Transportation Officials. "The more useful you make a system, the more people want to use it."

Here, the hope is the joint solicitation will bring in proposals from vendors that would serve both cities and the U.

But that does not guarantee a unified transportation system, as each jurisdiction would still have to set up their own license agreements, Elkins said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768