Nice Ride shuts down pioneering Minneapolis bike share program

Nice Ride bikes in their docks
Nice Ride operator Lyft said in a statement that it was a “tough decision” to suspend operations. "We have worked tirelessly to find a new sponsor but have not been successful. We will continue to work with our local partners to look for opportunities to provide service again in the future."
Alex Friedrich | MPR News 2013

After 13 years, the Nice Ride bike sharing program in Minneapolis is shutting down, as first reported by Racket.

The rideshare company Lyft, which operates Nice Ride, has been unable to fill a $2 million funding gap after its sponsorship contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota ended last year.

A ‘tough decision’

Nice Ride Minnesota executive director Bill Dossett said the nonprofit plans to sell the bicycles — 1,333 of them — and docking equipment — 198 stations — by the end of June. More than 700 helmets are expected to go to the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and Our Streets.

“I believe some parts of our stations will go to some of the larger cities” that still operate bike-sharing programs, Dossett said.

The electronics inside the docking stations are obsolete, he said, and were designed before smartphones came into common use. Upgrading the technology for Minneapolis would cost more than $600,000, he said.

The bikes are unlikely to have another life if they don’t sell.

“It's really hard to find another use for these bikes because they have a lot of custom parts, and it takes a lot longer to maintain one of these bikes if you just have to fix a flat.”

A Nice Ride bike rental station at West 26th Street and Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis.
MPR News file photo

Lyft said in an email to MPR News it was a “tough decision” to suspend the operations, which it took over in 2018.

"We have worked tirelessly to find a new sponsor but have not been successful. We will continue to work with our local partners to look for opportunities to provide service again in the future,” it said.

Dossett also said the business of what is now known as micromobility has changed with the growing popularity of electric scooters. Last year, only 15 percent of micromobility rides were taken on the green pedal bikes, he said. Labor and maintenance costs have also increased.

“Before 2018, we were able to cover approximately 70 percent of operating costs with sales revenue. Today, we would expect to cover less than 25 percent.”

Checking out a bike kiosk
Friends Mark Hawkins, right, and Sherri Juenemann stopped to check out one of the then-new Nice Ride bicycle kiosks near the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis in June.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2010

Dossett said the end of Nice Ride doesn’t necessarily mean bicycle sharing will end in the city.

He said it’s possible that one of the four scooter companies that operates in Minneapolis could begin offering rental bikes.

“Regardless of the outcome, the city has other licensees in the Shared Bike and Scooter Program interested in providing shared bikes, ensuring that the city will have bikes in the program this upcoming season,” city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie told KARE11.

A bike ride down memory lane

In 2010, Nice Ride launched with an initial fleet of 700 bicycles with funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the federal government. It was a pilot program — lasting far longer than intended — to see what could happen if cities made investments in bike sharing infrastructure.

At the time, Minneapolis and Denver were the only American cities with bike sharing programs.

A worker at Nice Ride's warehouse in Minneapolis
A worker at Nice Ride's warehouse in Minneapolis prepares to deploy a fleet of 3,300 bicycles in April.
Matt Sepic | MPR News 2019

In the letter to state and local officials last month, Nice Ride leaders said the bikes and other equipment lasted longer than expected.

“We are proud that the Nice Ride system operated for thirteen years and helped create what is now a global industry,” they said.

Riding off into the sunset

Elsewhere in the state, St. Paul, Bemidji and Rochester also piloted Nice Ride bikes.

The programs ended in St. Paul and Bemidji, but the city of Rochester kept the equipment when the partnership ended several years ago. Rochester now operates its own bike share program; it’s free to use and features former Nice Ride bikes.

Nice Ride in the snow
A bicyclist passes a Nice Ride dock as a late-season snowstorm hit Minneapolis in April.
Jim Mone | AP Photo 2013

In their letter, Nice Ride leaders said there was no way to predict how the service would evolve.

“None of us knew in 2010 whether Minnesotans would use shared micromobility, whether we could keep the bikes distributed throughout the city, or whether all the bikes would be thrown in the river,” they said. “It has been an incredible ride.”