Minneapolis-based bikeshare nonprofit Nice Ride Minnesota has officially rolled out its unique hub-driven dockless bike program.
Gathering outside Government Plaza in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday afternoon, Nice Ride executive director Bill Dossett and Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey spoke about the first-of-its kind program before test riding the new bikes.
Dossett often touted the new program’s improved distribution equity, or wider areas in which the all-new fleet of 1,500 bikes can be accessed, as an improvement over its current docked system. More than that, the suggestion of renting a bike located almost anywhere instead of at specified stations, according to Dossett, was the impetus behind Nice Ride’s latest output.
“About eight years ago we launched [Nice Ride] and about two weeks after I get a call from [Senator Bobby Joe Champion] saying you could have done this better,” Dossett told the Government Plaza crowd. “And he has been a great mentor to me in learning about how to do equity better.”
Champion’s concern was that no Nice Ride docks were established in North Minneapolis, and South Minneapolis, which are lower economic areas of the city that Champion referred to as home to “the disenfranchised.”
Champion worked with Dossett to address that challenge and emphasize the importance of equity in distribution. Equity then became a focus of all those with a stake in Nice Ride’s future plans.
These stakeholders include Motivate, the Brooklyn, New York-based bikeshare company that Nice Ride brought in earlier this year to serve as its overarching operator. Motivate’s goals for Nice Ride include increased equity, quality, reliability, and innovation.
Central to Nice Ride’s new bikeshare plan is that bikes won’t have to be returned to the station they were rented or at any other station. Instead, they must be parked in lots, or the so-called hubs, which are designated by stripes painted on the ground.
“They’re gonna be easier to find, and… we can actually have fewer bikes and higher-quality bikes than you could if you let them go anywhere,” said Dossett.
It’s a simple compromise between two existing systems, yet never-before been done in the industry. Minneapolis City officials helped conceive this solution as a way to head off the perceived problems of dockless systems and are pleased with the final product.
“Technology is not something to be feared,” said Robin Hutcheson, Minneapolis director of public works. “If we welcome it and we use it to meet our city goals – in this case better access to transportation options, equitable distribution of bikes throughout the city, an environmental advantage… prosperity… the list goes on and on.”
Approximately 200 bike hubs will be established by the end of the year, including in neighborhoods with Nice Ride docks, such as in Philipps, Seward and North Minneapolis.
“I sincerely appreciate the equitable distribution of these bikes because we want to make sure that our entire city gets the benefit of what these great partners have put together,” said Champion. “Because when we all do better, we all do better.”
Minneapolis park board commissioner Latrisha Vetaw, who’s been educating the North Minneapolis and Little Earth communities about bike riding and access to bikes, echoed Champion’s sentiment.
“I want to thank everyone for their continued support… in making sure that the disenfranchised don’t remain that way,” said Vetaw. “I can’t wait to see these blue bikes riding around.”
The new bikes are blue, instead of Nice Ride’s traditional green because, as Dossett explained, the company is maintaining its existing docked system for the time being and he wanted to distinguish the different bikes to prevent user confusion.
New blue Nice Ride dockless bikes are lined up in Government Plaza, next to the original green dock-based bikes.
As the Nice Ride program unfolds, leaders are already looking toward the future to do even more to improve and expand public transportation with an array of benefits in mind.
Said mayor Jacob Frey: “We will continue to assess the demand for these and other innovative options as a 21st century city that is determined to serve the varied transportation needs of all who live, who work, and who study and visit here.”