City Council Committee Reviews "Dockless" Bike Share Tuesday

Proposal for Nice Ride Minnesota-led transition to "dockless" bike sharing differs from most others around the country. Details & our position:

What is dockless bike share?

The basics of dockless bike share are that the bike locks to itself rather than locking in a station and that users find the nearest bike via on interactive online map (most also require a smart phone to unlock). More details on dockless here. We also wrote about local updates on dockless bike share in September, NovemberNovember, and February.

What is planned for dockless bike share in Minneapolis?

Nice_Ride_Bike_Kiosk_Wikipedia.jpgThe City of Minneapolis is proposing continuing its exclusive relationship with Nice Ride Minnesota for bike share. It's amending details of their existing contract to reflect dockless bike share. The University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Park Board are also on board. St. Paul has opted out of participating in Nice Ride's transition to dockless for the time being. Golden Valley is one of several suburban communities working on a dockless pilot separate from Minneapolis.

Nice Ride has decided to expand to dockless bike share in Minneapolis in partnership with Motivate, a company based in New York that runs several of the larger docked systems in the country, including New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago. This provides entirely private funding for the expansion.

Based on recent information from Nice Ride, the City, and information that Motivate shared at a public meeting in November, we can expect:

  • a launch later in the summer assuming everything stays on track; this would be a pilot until 2021;
  • $1 rides for 30 minutes in 2018 (probably higher after that) with membership options;
  • 1,500 dockless bikes added in Minneapolis in each year until 2021; these will be in addition to the current docked bikes, (which will be replaced with dockless bikes as they wear out) meaning nearly 8,000 bikes available in 2021;
  • bikes will be lighter, but are still unlikely to serve shorter people;
  • bikes will be required to be returned to "virtual stations," (more on this below);
  • it is not yet clear how many virtual stations Nice Ride will have and where those will be, but it will be many more than there are currently docked stations;
  • the Nice Ride docked system will continue to operate as well (it's open right now), but will be transitioned out;
  • continued programs to support access to bike share at greatly reduced costs for people with low-income;
  • a pilot program to test electric-assist bikes; and
  • a winter bike share pilot.

Nice Ride has an update event April 25th from 5-7pm at Dayblock Brewing where they will share more details.

Two unique features--exclusivity and virtual stations

Dockless_bike_share_Washington_D.C._(David_Alpert).JPGScenes like the one on the right from Washington, D.C.--with bikes from multiple companies parked on a general sidewalk--won't happen in Minneapolis. That's because at the core of the Minneapolis approach are two features that are at least currently pretty unique in dockless conversations around the country--having an exclusive provider and using virtual stations throughout.

Exclusive provider

Our Streets supports an exclusive relationship with Nice Ride Minnesota for a pilot project of dockless bike share with some considerations (articulated below in our position). The Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee has also supported such an approach.

Such a situation differs from Seattle, D.C., Dallas, and a number of other cities that are taking a regulated market approach to providing dockless bike share. There are multiple private providers in each of those city duking it out for market share.

Some have argued that a regulated market means competition that will drive access (more bikes), cheaper prices, and better service more so that in an exclusive relationship. That does seem to be true in the short term for at least number of bikes and prices as there currently is a lot of venture capital flowing to dockless bike share.

After looking at this in other cities, talking to people and listening to proposals, I personally strongly feel that a contract with a single entity is the most likely approach for dockless bike share to be the most successful in Minneapolis (and hopefully it can include other cities in the region in the future).

I think it provides the best chance to serve more parts of the city (if required in the contract), whereas private companies on their own have incentive to focus in highest demand areas. It also easier to work with one company to ensure bikes aren’t being left blocking sidewalks, and it will be sustainable over a longer term in our market, where many people already own bikes.

Now, the contracting is important to make sure Minneapolis gets good details in exchange for exclusivity. And it still might not work out, because the bike share industry is changing quickly. But this is short-term deal where we can learn a lot and see how other cities' models are working and reevaluate in a few years.

Virtual stations

Dockless_bike_corral_Seattle_Credit_Dongho_Chang.jpgCentral to Motivate's proposal to Nice Ride was the use of "virtual stations," which are corrals where bikes are returned. They may look like this pilot painted corral in Seattle, which they are trying in business districts where parking of dockless bikes has been problematic.

The City has chosen to make use of virtual stations required within their updated contract with Nice Ride and will require that all bikes are returned to virtual stations. The City defines them "as GPS geo-fenced areas designated on an app and/or website identifying locations. The permitted virtual stations will be field identified by some combination of signage, striping, or other traffic control devices."

While Our Streets recognizes that virtual stations may be prudent for managing the right of way in some situations, we are concerned that requiring virtual stations throughout the City will limit accessibility to bike share and make it harder to serve many neighborhoods of the city well. We hope that flexibility will be provided in the contract to allow for different approaches to be tried over the pilot period rather than locking in solely on virtual stations that require individual permitting (which takes time) and striping or signage. 


Our Streets position 

Here is our detailed position on the dockless bike share details coming to the City Council Transportation and Public Works Committee at 10am Tuesday. We'll live tweet or you can join at City Hall 317 or online.

Dockless bike share is a great opportunity to expand access in Minneapolis and help make progress towards numerous City goals. We appreciate the work that City staff and Nice Ride Minnesota staff have done to get to what is being presented on Tuesday. 
Our Streets Minneapolis supports the City having an exclusive relationship with Nice Ride Minnesota for a pilot project of dockless bike share with the following considerations:
  1. We think it’s essential that the City uphold standards for equitable distribution of “virtual stations” and bicycles. The City needs to ensure that the day one launch of dockless bike share serves the City’s racial and economic equity goals and makes use of bike share a legitimate option for people in most areas of the cities. That includes ensuring that it will serve areas like much of North Minneapolis and Phillips and Central neighborhoods. The requirement of equitable distribution of bike share is a reasonable expectation in exchange for providing exclusivity. We also hope that consideration is made as soon as possible to provide bikes that can serve people who are too short to use the current bikes.
  2. We think that the City should consider ways to provide flexibility within the license agreement for where and how bike share bikes are parked, especially in lower-density areas. We understand that “virtual stations” are a key component of Motivate’s (Nice Ride's forthcoming partner) approach to dockless bike share, and agree that such an approach may be prudent for managing the right of way in some situations. However, we are concerned that requiring virtual stations throughout the City will limit accessible to bike share and make it harder to serve many neighborhoods of the city well. We think it is important to both provide a high level of bike share service throughout most of the city and to ensure reasonable management of sidewalks and the public right of way. The contract amendment should support rather than prohibit the possibility of different approaches to achieving those goals.
  3. In addition to requiring reporting on age and gender data of users, we think the City should require reporting on race and income of users. Such information is essential to understanding how the system is serving racial and economic equity goals. The City should also require reporting on the availability of bikes by neighborhood, so we can understand how the system is serving different parts of the city.
For the contract amendment action being considered on Tuesday, we'd offer specifically:
  • There is a significant amount of difference to the detail of information available here. That makes it hard to evaluate whether equitable distribution will be upheld by the City. We hope that equity would be more clearly defined in the context of "8. Requires NRMN to submit an updated business plan, including four key components: Service/Station/Fleet, Equity, Data and Asset Transition; all of which are subject to approval by the Public Works Director." Equity can mean a lot of things, even in the context of City goals. How much of the city is served at what density of service in exchange for offering exclusivity is a key policy question here. While we have a high degree of confidence in staff and Nice Ride, we hope the City Council will be more specific here to send a clear message and ensure equity is being upheld. 
  • Points 12 & 13 summarize regulations of bike share parking in virtual stations:
"12. Requires dockless bicycles to be self-locking, and parked within defined virtual stations when not in use.  
13. Defines virtual stations as GPS geo-fenced areas designated on an app and/or website identifying locations.  The permitted virtual stations will be field identified by some combination of signage, striping, or other traffic control devices."

It does not appear that this provides a lot of flexibility to try different ways to sort out parking of dockless bike share bikes. As we note in #2 above that concerns us. We hope hope that questions will be asked about that on Tuesday and potentially a tweak in this language or a staff direction could be considered to get to a place where we are locking in for virtual stations for the next 3+ years as our only way to provide access to bike share bikes. 

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