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Minneapolis micromobility experiments

Projects, Technology

Minneapolis micromobility experiments

BY   Alexandre Gauquelin   

Minneapolis is a really dynamic city in terms of mobility. Although the harsh winter is not in favor of light mobility, it is where one of the first US public bike-share system launched in 2010. Since then, the city has been flexible to follow and test the technological changes in the micromobility sector.

Station-based bike-share

Nice Ride Minnesota was one major important bike-share project in the US, launched in 2010 in both Minneapolis and St Paul. The non-profit organization Nice Ride operates the system with the “historical” Motivate (now part of Lyft) solution.

The networks expanded steadily from 65 stations / 700 bikes in 2010 to 200 stations / 1800 bikes today. But the arrival of private dockless bike then e-scooter operators signed the end of the Nice Ride in St Paul in 2019. Nice Ride only remains in Minneapolis nowadays.

Semi-freefloating bikes arrive…

Nice Ride was one of the first operators of a dock-based bike-share solution to integrate a dockless one in the same service (along with Bay Wheels, another Motivate/Lyft project): in September 2018, it launched 1500 bikes. The goal was pretty simple: carrying on with the network expansion/densification at a low cost. But the city and operator agreed on a semi-freefloating solution, as bikes can only be dropped at virtual stations (hundreds of it have been implemented).

… then e-scooters

In spring 2019, the e-scooter wave hit the city : Minneapolis launched an RFP, and selected Jump, Lime, Lyft and Spin to operate 2000 vehicles in total. A real focus was made on equity with low-income pricing, distribution in specific neighborhoods and safety, with mandatory education on parking and safe ride. Here, of course, we are talking about a real freefloating solution…

A mix creating disorder

So you have this mix of mobility solutions: docked bikes, semi-freefloating bikes, and freefloating e-scooters, each based on different rental processes. It caused confusion among riders :

” If you see a scooter on the sidewalk, but you have to turn your bike back in somewhere it doesn’t necessarily add up. “

Claire Repp, Marketing lead at Nice Ride

Yes, why should I return my bike to a hub when I can drop my e-scooter anywhere? If the dock-based system infrastructure makes it clear for the rider, the lack of visibility of the freefloating bike’s hubs might be confusing!

On top of that, it seems that Lyft’s dockless bikes lack reliable connection, and therefore reliable localization. As it was more needed than expected to retrieve bikes dropped out of the hubs, it made the operation work much more complex and expensive and allowed more theft.

What is the answer ?

First, the mix will change again with the introduction of up to 2000 Lyft e-bikes in the fleet. Those hybrid bikes are able to be either returned in a dock or locked to a rack to end the ride. But let’s remind that Lyft took its e-bike off the US streets after several battery fire cases.

Nice Ride is also planning to update its existing freefloating bikes with a lock-to mechanism (similar to the e-bike) and change its semi-freefloating system for a real freefloating one. In order for it to work properly, as written above, it will also need the introduction of more accurate technology to locate the vehicles.

But… wait, Minnesota is also introducing mobility hubs! “The hubs include a bus stop, bench, designated bike-share and e-scooter parking and way-finding signage with travel times to points of interest “. So you adopt full freefloating solutions and creat those hubs at the same time? It seems like freefloaters manage to win against Nice Ride’s semi-freefloating model, while the city still believe in it…

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