I Attended the NiceRide in North Minneapolis at UROC

Two weeks back, I attended a meeting at UROC to discuss the plans to expand the NiceRide bike rental program further into North Minneapolis through the roll-out of additional bike kiosk locations. Here are a few nuggets with commentary.

NiceRide is hoping to double in size in 2011, including moving into St. Paul

Regarding the expansion into North Minneapolis, this particular move is being driven by special funding that’s specifically earmarked for new stations in North. At the start of the NiceRide project in 2010, there were no planned stations for North Minneapolis. Later, they shifted three of the 65 original stations into North (although one is at IMS, which is barely near North).

Some money appears to be going toward an outreach project to learn about what will make Nice Ride succeed in North. If Nice Ride would like to pay me to tell them whether (or how) bikes on Lake Street or other spots in Longfellow will do, I’ll take the money. However, I have a hunch that Nice Ride is perfectly capable of figuring that out on their own. Put another way, this seems like an unnecessary hoop for Nice Ride to jump through.

There was a discussion about what concerns people have about the program. The biggest one raised regards the deposit that hits credit/debit cards when bikes are rented at the daily rate. When the program first launched, the hold was $200, and took a few days to come off after the bike was returned. Now, they’ve dropped it to $50 after finding the damage/theft rate to be very low. If someone is barely making ends meet, having $50 of credit on hold for a few days could be the difference between bouncing checks (if a debit card is used) or being declined at a store (debit or credit). Since Nice Ride needs to have some accountability beyond the $5 rental rate, I think this is a reasonable expectation, although it’s possible that Nice Ride could make it more clear to renters.

However, the best way to get around the credit hold issue is to cough up for the annual pass. That runs $60, and does not cause your card to get hit each time you check out a bike from a station.

If you don’t have a credit/debit card, give a friend $60 cash and have them buy you an annual pass.

Regarding annual pass sales, it seems like Nice Ride could sell more of them if they made them available at retail locations. For example, I’m sure Birchwood Cafe or Seward Coop would be willing to offer them to their customers. Lowering the friction on getting the annual passes should help increase adoption rates.

Another idea that came up was how the maps at stations could be improved. Right now, they show where the other stations are, but they don’t give any insight into how far, realistically, a person may be able to go within 30 minutes before wanting to check in their bike (to avoid overage charges). For example, someone mentioned that the UROC Nice Ride station is a long way from places someone may want to go, such as downtown. However, let’s assume that someone can average a 6MPH for 30 minutes. If so, that gives them a range of 3 miles, which can get someone all the way The Guthrie within 30 minutes. That means that probably 2 dozen current Nice Ride stations are reachable within 30 minutes from UROC, which is the most isolated of all Nice Ride stations at this point. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that anyone could make it from UROC to the station currently furthest from UROC (Birchwood Cafe) with only one exchange (thus, not incurring any charges by having bikes out for longer than 30 minutes).

If the maps helped illustrate this, I think people would come up with more ideas on how the bikes could be used for transportation.

Another issue that came up include which streets are bike-friendly, or dangerous in North, with Broadway getting the nod as the least bike-friendly street in North. No argument there.

Venue-wise, it seems likely that the new stations going into North will likely fill in some of the holes in the currently network along Plymouth, bring Broadway into the mix, and possibly get some action along the Mississippi River.

Overall, it’s great to see the system growing, since it adds value to everyone by expanding the network.

5 thoughts on “I Attended the NiceRide in North Minneapolis at UROC”

  1. Great post Ed,

    Regarding annual pass sales, the only way to purchase an annual or 30-day subscription is via the website. We don’t sell at retail locations because we need subscribers to set up an online account with a card that we can bill fees to. This is why the credit card issue is such a tricky one, having a friend put the $60 on their card doesn’t solve it, unless we can also bill them for your fees, and any bikes that go missing throughout the year. Our system depends on the web and electronic billing because a high percentage of our monthly bills are very small, like $1.62. Without electronic billing, it wouldn’t pay to collect on these small amounts. We’ve been at over 90 events throughout the city this summer selling gift certificates, redeemable for a 1 yr subscription on the website without much interest. We also tried setting up laptops at events so people could sign up on the spot, which of course doesn’t work. No one wants to fumble with a mouse, or enter sensitive information on a public computer, nor should they.

    I agree with your comments on maps. We need to do a much better job of conveying how far a person can travel, at relatively low speed, in 30 minutes. Money is very tight so it didn’t make sense to try to implement something this year, look for changes in next years maps.

    Stations in Longfellow and on Lake Street? YES-We’re working on it.

    Mitch Vars
    IT Director, Nice Ride Minnesota

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mitch. It’s obvious that a lot of thought goes into the decisions that are being made. I’m looking forward to seeing the service continue to grow.

  3. Mitch, thanks for the tip. It looks like I won’t be back from a work trip in time to hit that, but am very interested in hearing how it goes.

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