It's officially summer, but St. Paul still doesn't have a bike-share program — yet.
Officials in the capital city say they are hopeful that a new partnership with Minneapolis will propel the return of bike sharing after a three-summer hiatus, allowing users to more easily cross the border between the two cities.
"We are continuing to have conversations with Lyft and are very hopeful that we will have news to share soon," said Reuben Collins, St. Paul's transportation planning manager. A spokesperson for Lyft declined to comment on the negotiations.
For the first time last fall, St. Paul, Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board issued a joint request for proposals for bike- and scooter-sharing vendors.
The goal, officials say, is to allow users to ride seamlessly between Minneapolis and St. Paul. In previous years, it was not uncommon to see piles of discarded vehicles at the cities' border, where they'd cross out of their vendor's programming area and putter out.
"At the moment, there's an artificial boundary where scooters have to stop," said John Mark Lucas, transportation programs manager for the U. "We're happy to be a part of this combined effort — because from a user's point of view, it just makes sense."
Minneapolis and the U have contracts with scooter providers Lime and Spin, as well as Lyft, which supplies scooters and Nice Ride bikes.
Lime scooters rolled into St. Paul last week and are the only option for the city's riders at the moment. But the City Council is expected to approve a contract with Spin on Wednesday, meaning additional scooters will likely hit the streets in the coming weeks, Collins said.
He added that St. Paul is lagging behind its peer because Minneapolis headed up the procurement process and had to finalize its license agreements with vendors before others could start negotiations.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is expected to sign an order to allow two more vendors — Veo and Bird — to put scooters on the city's streets.
Ridership numbers for 2022 are not yet available, but last year Minneapolis' scooter vendors — Bird and Lyft — each had an average of 681 vehicles available a day in peak fall months, according to city data.
Nice Ride saw record ridership in 2021 with 533,000 trips taken on its fleet of traditional and electric-assisted bikes, said Tamara Conway, general manager of the bike-share system that's now in its 13th season.
This year, Nice Ride, which Lyft purchased in 2018, has become the first system in the country to allow riders to use a single app to rent a bike or scooter, a Lyft spokesperson said. Nice Ride planned to deploy 446 stations across Minneapolis, the most since 2018.
St. Paul for years shared the Nice Ride system, but the company's docks were removed a few years ago when the city opted to instead sign a contract for dockless bikes from Lime.
Within months, Lime dropped its bike services to focus on scooters. St. Paul has been seeking a new vendor ever since.
"Big cities everywhere are rethinking their approach to bike sharing," after the market went through a boom and bust of sorts over the past five years, Collins said. Many companies found the business unprofitable and switched gears or went bankrupt. Some cities, including St. Paul, have been looking for ways to fill funding gaps with subsidies, sponsorships or advertising.
"I do know that any of the conversations that we have with the vendors, they continue to tell us that they view the Twin Cities as a very strong market and continue to have a lot of interest in operating here," Collins said.