I strongly supported the Council’s action to apply for up to $1.75 million from the Non-Motorized Transportation Program to establish the first major bike-sharing system in the US. This system will cover Uptown, Midtown and Downtown, all of the University and West Bank neighborhoods and parts of Prospect Park, providing a great people-powered way for folks to get around.
The bikes will be sturdy and easy to use, designed especially for this bike sharing system. They'll include lights, chain guards, fenders, at least three speeds and a large basket. The idea is to attract people who might bike now for recreation and exercise, but don't typically ride to get from place to place. Businesspeople on their way to meetings, patrons of downtown bars who don't want to worry about parking, transit-dependent folks who want to get to the train or bus more quickly - we want to broaden the accessibility of biking to include all sorts of folks who aren't out there on bikes today.
The model we are poised to use is different from some of the other bike sharing systems in use in Europe right now. First, the kiosks where the bikes wait for users will be moveable, rather than being built into the street. This will enable the folks running the system to react well to the use patterns we observe - too few bikes in a given location? Move more there!
Second, it will not be funded by an agreement about street adverising. Some of the other major systems such as Velib in Paris, are provided in exchange for exclusive street advertising rights citywide. Minneapolis has already given our street advertising contract to Clear Channel in exchange for street furniture, so this wasn't an option. Instead, the bike sharing system will be run by a nonprofit agency, funded by the system's revenues, advertising at the kiosks, and corporate philanthropy. This funding model depends on the relatively large-scale investment of public funds to set up the system - hence the $1.75 million NTP request - but shouldn't cost the public anything to maintain.
One of the pieces of information that helped convince me that this system can be successful was a survey conducted by the U, in which they asked students and staff whether they would use the proposed bike sharing program. The nonprofit’s target is for 7% of students to purchase annual memberships. The result of this survey, however, is that more than 36% of respondents said they would buy a membership - and another 30% would use the system from time to time. Even with the inherent problems with surveys (self-selection bias, small sample size, etc), this shows that there’s some pretty significant demand out there for this service.
The hope for this system is that, once it's in place and starts to see some use, bicycling to meet one's daily needs will go from being an activity for a certain set of people - often younger adult committed types with nice bikes and all sorts of gear - to being for everyone.