The future of bike sharing: Nice Ride is looking into dockless bikes

Bikes could be locked and unlocked anywhere using a smartphone app.

Bicycle sharing programs have already come a long way in Minnesota, but Nice Ride has a vision to take the system to the next level. 

Since its launch in Minneapolis in 2010, Nice Ride has grown from 65 to 201 stations in the Twin Cities, expanded to Rochester and Bemidji, and watched as its model was replicated in cities throughout North America.

As the industry continues to grow and change rapidly, the non-profit is adapting and looking into ways to make bike sharing even more accessible to more people. 

Following in the footsteps of cities like Seattle, Nice Ride Minnesota is considering a new system: dockless biking.

Dockless bikes

Imagine having a bicycle available on every corner that's accessible through a single click on your smartphone. That's Nice Ride's vision for the future of bike sharing in the Twin Cities.

Gone would be the days of riders picking up and returning the lime green bikes to fixed stations. With the dockless system, bikes could be locked and unlocked anywhere through a smartphone app. (Remember car2go? Same concept, but with bicycles.)

Nice Ride says the bikes are less expensive to deploy and maintain than station-based bikes, offering consumers both convenience and lower costs. A dockless system can also be supported in smaller communities and cities that cannot support a docked system.

Dockless systems have become wildly popular in China over the past year, Nice Ride says, and can now be found in Seattle, Dallas, and Washington D.C. In these cities, the dockless bike share systems have been set up by private companies – in Seattle, there are at least three competing programs, according to the Southwest Journal

Rather than waiting for these companies to come to Minnesota, Nice Ride wants to transition its current system by partnering with a vendor to bring in dockless bikes. The existing Nice Ride bikes and stations would be gradually phased out and replaced with dockless bikes. 

The finalists

In August, Nice Ride issued a request for proposals for the “transition of the Twin Cities bike share system.” From that request they have narrowed it down to two finalists: Lime Bike and Motivate.

On Monday night, the finalists will discuss their plans at a public meeting at 7 p.m. at Macalester College in St. Paul.

Nice Ride says as many as 10,000 dockless bikes could be hitting the streets in the Twin Cities as soon as next spring.

But in the meantime, memberships will continue to work throughout 2018 with both docked and any dockless bikes, though exactly how that will work hasn't been laid out yet.

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