Nice Ride Minnesota hopes to rebound after slow 2020

Tim Harlow, Star Tribune
·3 min read

Nice Ride Minnesota is back for another season and the bike share program is hoping riders will be, too.

This week workers began deploying nearly 1,000 of the shiny green bikes across Minneapolis, and a fleet of 1,000 pedal-assisted electric bikes (e-bikes) and scooters will be out soon.

As Nice Ride kicks off its 12th season, it joins other bike share systems across the country looking to rebound from a year that saw an overall drop in ridership largely attributed to stay-at-home orders and fears about using public transportation during the pandemic.

Nice Ride's ridership was down 41% in May last year, compared with the same month in 2019. Ridership on the nation's five largest bike share systems was down 45% between March and May last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Even by February, nearly a year after COVID-19 hit, total trips taken collectively on the six systems was 49% below the February 2020 level, the bureau said in presenting figures for Nice Ride and systems in San Francisco, Chicago, New York City/New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Boston.

Nice Ride's total ridership in 2020 was about 226,000, according to the nonprofit. That was well below the more than 300,000 trips taken during the previous riding season and the 460,000 in 2017, according to the Minneapolis Transportation Action Plan published in December. Some of the decline can be attributed to a shorter 2020 riding season.

There is room for optimism. Nice Ride gained momentum in the final months of the 2020 season — ridership of 37,136 in September and 19,317 in October were both higher than the same months the year before.

With more people getting vaccinated and a "tremendous pent-up demand" to get back to some degree of normalcy, Nice Ride's Executive Director Bill Dossett said he believes this year's season could be as strong as ever.

"We believe we are poised for a breakout year," he said Wednesday during a webinar hosted by Move Minneapolis, the city's transportation management organization. "I believe we are positioned to see a big return."

Overall, bike sharing has been on the upswing. In the first six years after the system arrived on the transportation landscape in 2010, riders collectively logged 88 million trips.

Then e-bikes and electric scooters came along and ridership on both modes soared — in 2019 alone, Americans took 136 million trips on shared bikes and scooters, a 60% increase from 2018 and double the number of trips taken the year before that, according to a report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Early warm weather this spring might help get the season off to a good start. E-bikes might be a key, too. Even in last year's downturn, e-bikes featuring an electric motor to assist propulsion were quite popular, Dossett said.

"E-bikes are that good," he said. "People are going to love them."

An $89 Nice Ride membership comes with unlimited 45-minute rides on the classic green bikes and discounted rides on e-bikes and Lyft scooters. Lyft owns the bike-sharing program.

Nonmembers can use Nice Ride vehicles too, but will pay $2.50 to unlock a green bike and take a 30-minute ride. Extra minutes will cost 22 cents. It will cost $2.50 to unlock an e-bike and riders will pay 22 cents a minute. For scooters, it's $1 to unlock and 39 cents per minute to ride. A day pass allowing access to both bikes and scooters costs $6.

Minneapolis students who receive financial aid qualify for a $5 annual membership, allowing them to ride bikes for 5 cents a minute.

When the full fleet is deployed, Nice Ride will have 175 docking stations and nearly 200 stations to park e-bikes and scooters this year. Many of them will be located near transit stops, parks and other popular destinations.

"We are eager for the new season to begin," Dossett said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768