Co-reported by Paying Yang
Most people understand that riding bikes is healthy – and good for the environment. But more and more people are also discovering that rental bikes are a convenient way to negotiate city traffic and avoid parking hassles.
Mitch Vars is one of the many users of rental bikes from Nice Ride Minnesota, the largest supplier of rental bikes in the Twin Cities. Truth in advertising: He also happens to be the company’s information technology director.
“They’re great for a one-way trip,” Vars said. “I take a bike if I’m going to meet a friend and I don’t want to take the car.”
Nice Ride is an eight-year-old bike sharing system with 1,800 bikes on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It will add 1,500 bikes this year and another 1,500 in 2019. All of these will use the new “dockless” technology.
Dockless bikes will lower the price of a rental from $3 to $2. They will have GPS technology to inform riders of the virtual pickup and dropoff zones.
“We’re going to have more bikes on the street and closer proximity to more people and more neighborhoods,” Vars said. In all, the company is looking to add 800 to 1,000 dockless locations next year.
Nice Ride needed a hand to achieve that growth. In July 2018, Motivate Minnesota assumed control of Nice Ride’s operations, changing it from a nonprofit to a private company. With potential new competitors coming into the market, Nice Ride had to adapt to the changing industry. “They (new competitors) are going to come in at 99 cents or a dollar (per ride), and we know we wouldn’t be able to compete with that unless we made some changes,” Vars said. Motivate Minnesota is providing cash and technology that will allow Nice Ride to meet that challenge.
Nice Ride also plans to do an electric bike pilot project in 2019. Vars said that people are using e-bikes more in other parts of the country because they make it easier to travel longer distances faster. “The length of trips taken on the electric bike tends to be significantly longer than on the standard bike, so people are able to use them to do more things.”
Vars believes that these changes will benefit the community, as well as the company. One example is a new partnership with Shared Use Mobility that aims to integrate shared bicycles with buses, light rail and other means of transportation. It also will make sure rental bikes are included in the planning for parks and other public spaces.
“Nice Ride has had a role in that from the beginning,” Vars said. “We have talked about what role bike sharing can play.”
Motivate Minnesota hopes greater use of shared bikes will lead to a healthier and more vibrant Twin Cities. “If we’re successful, it means improvement in air quality. It means less traffic congestion. It means increased mobility for residents, and it could mean increased economic vitality,” Vars said. He believes that having greater mobility will give people the potential to go out to eat, go to a movie or just spend money.
Vars is looking forward to the future. Motivate Minnesota has a three-year plan for continued growth. “Our focus will be trying to increase the number of riders, the access to bicycles and the number of neighborhoods that we provide services in,” he said.
As the long road continues, Nice Ride will pursue prosperity for the community.