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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Is there a path forward for bike sharing in Rochester?

Is there a path forward for bike sharing in Rochester?

Nice Ride's two-year run in Rochester has come to an end. 

The bike share service was originally introduced in 2016 as a way for visitors and residents to get around town on two wheels. 

But recent changes to Nice Ride's operations in the Twin Cities have brought the local program to a screeching halt. 

The organization recently signed a contract with Motivate, the nation's largest bike share program, and is now in the midst of transitioning from a nonprofit service to a privately-funded operation. The agreement, however, does not support continuing service in Rochester.

As a result, the Rochester fleet of Nice Ride bikes have remained locked up in storage while local stakeholders decide what to do next.

"What we want to do is transfer them to a local partner," said Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride, noting the 200 bikes will remain in Rochester as long as they continue to provide a public benefit.

On Thursday, a group of stakeholders — including representatives from Destination Medical Center, Olmsted County, the City of Rochester and Mayo Clinic — met to discuss potential interim uses for the bikes.

"The orange bike program will continue to exist, likely with the expanded oversight by Parks and Recreation and Experience Rochester, to facilitate individual and group rides, and group contracts," said Kim Edens, who managed the Nice Ride program locally.

The group also talked about long-term plans for bike share service. While the local Nice Ride program used docking stations and required manual waiver forms, there are new models emerging that leverage technology — similar to the way Uber operates — to be more flexible and efficient.

"As the city of Rochester continues to grow, alternative, active transportation options are a priority," said Edens. "Based on what the community wants for bicycling, the time is now to collectively evaluate dock-less bike share systems, new technology and app-focused user interface options."

During its two years of operation, the Nice Ride program was touted as an example of local efforts to make Rochester more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. However, due to a variety of factors, the program never really caught on — and rentals were few and far between. 

Still, Nice Ride leaders say the bikes served their intended purpose. For one, the program introduced the concept of bike sharing at a time when the city is considering improvements to its transportation infrastructure. They also created greater visibility and acceptance for bikes downtown, said Dossett.

Moving forward, the group of stakeholders who brought Nice Ride to Rochester will continue to evaluate options for offering a more robust bike share program. Speaking to us after Thursday's meeting, Kevin Bright, DMC's sustainability director, said there is reason to be optimistic.

“We all left with the understanding of the importance of having a bike share program in town and a willingness to figure out a long-term approach."

Cover photo: File / Med City Beat

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