Four years after Boise GreenBike launched in and around Downtown Boise, the program faces major hurdles in coming months.
Either significant changes will come to the program, or it could shut down all together.
The program runs on a platform operated by Social Bicycles – which operates similar public systems in locations from Ketchum, Idaho to New Orleans, LA. Social Bicycles also operates JUMP – a line of electric-assist bikes and scooters, mostly in larger cities.
JUMP, and Social Bicycles – are now owned by Uber.
“Our vendor, Social Bicycles, is trying to get out of the business,” Boise GreenBike executive director Dave Fotsch said. He said the Uber purchase centered “solely on the strength of their electric assist bike the JUMP bike.”
The existing bikes will soon stop working. The communications hardware on board each bike is based on cellular technology via AT&T that works on 2G and 3G cell phone networks. AT&T plans to wind down its older cell networks in favor of a faster 5G network and continued support for 4G speeds currently found in many phones.
Last summer, Boise GreenBike placed an order for new bikes with Social Bicycles – worth more than $182,000. Fotsch said 120 new bikes were set to show up in Boise in March or April.
But before the bikes arrived, Social Bikes told Fotsch it would no longer support systems like Boise’s after November of 2020. In late March, he canceled the order.
Last winter, Boise elected to extend its contract with Social Bikes for one year – to end in the summer of 2020.
“It is my goal to not ever sign another contract with social bicycles,” he said with frustration.
No matter what happens next, big changes are on the way.
The future of Boise GreenBike
Fotsch is working on a request for proposal to replace the soon-to-be-obsolete Social Bicycles.
“The industry has changed,” he said. “We are the flip phone of micro-mobility… it’s just difficult to rent the bikes by comparison.”
The comparison he’s talking about is dockless scooters. Three private companies launched the devices in Boise in recent months – with more than 700 on the streets. That compares with 127 for Boise GreenBike.
Fotsch said he hopes to hear from vendors on options that use newer technology
“We want to go with electric assist bikes and go with a dockless model,” he said. He hopes a new program would have “lock-to” technology, where bikes could be returned to a rack similar to the current program – but that would be optional.
Fotsch said in the year before scooters launched in Boise, they saw ridership increase more than 50% to 35,000 rides over the course of a full year. He said ridership stayed at a similar level since the scooters launched.
According to recent data from the City of Boise, after seven months, 64,138 different people rode a scooter – with a total of 236,882 rides — and the program has not yet hit the warm summer season.
“Before scooters, we had our best performance ever,” he said. “We can’t just win (against scooters) as far as affordability and ease of use.”
The $182,000 in funding via COMPASS is being held for Boise GreenBike according to Fotsch – and could be put towards new bikes if the RFP comes together soon.
Still a lane for green bikes?
He concedes that one of the possible outcomes is the shut down of Boise GreenBike.
But he thinks the market needs a publicly-supported option. While he said operations dollars for the project comes through ridership fees, membership and sponsorship – it has the backing of parent organization Valley Regional Transit.
He said scooter companies aren’t yet making money.
“If we want to leave micro-mobility it in the hands of the private sector, then we can pursue that. I don’t know that we can trust the private market to continue to provide these services.”
He thinks, even with scooters, there’s a place for the green bikes.
“Not everybody wants to ride a scooter,” he said. “We think there is a place for bike share to help people get around.”