Nice Ride looks to expand first to Rochester, then to Greater Minnesota


Now that Nice Ride has 170 stations and more than 1,500 bikes throughout the Twin Cities, the four-year-old bike share network is setting its sights on the rest of the state.

Expansion plans were hatched when the program's flagship sponsor, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, put out a state-wide call asking communities for proposals that would help them address various health issues.

"Many of the proposals that they got back from Bemidji, from Morris, from all these other towns said, 'We want what the Twin Cities has,'" explains Mitch Vars, Nice Ride's I.T. Director. "'We want bike share, we want Nice Ride.'"

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The trouble is, Nice Ride is an urban animal. It requires high density, it requires a network, "and it's very expensive," adds Vars. So the program has broken its expansion into two projects: A full-on satellite in Rochester, and a to-be-determined hybrid of Nice Ride and something like a college campus-style bike library for cities in the rest of the state.

The Rochester project is "in the feasibility study stage," says Vars, which means that a consulting firm hired by the city is looking at what it will take to put the lime green bikes in Rochester. Once that study's done, Nice Ride will take it to its board for the thumbs up or thumbs down.

"If it happens, it could happen as soon as next season," Vars says, estimating a possible launch some time in 2014. A satellite means that Rochester's bikes and docking stations would be identical to the ones in Minneapolis, and that a subscriber with a key for the Twin Cities bikes could use that same key down in Rochester.

As for the rest of Minnesota, Nice Ride is going back to the drawing board. "We're in the R&D stage right now," explains Vars. "We're taking a survey of what's being done world-wide, and if there's something... that's feasible."

One idea could be for Nice Ride to form partnerships in towns around the local business association or an existing bike shop. The program could even capitalize on the state's railways, and set up a "rails to trails kind of thing, that links to state parks and so forth," Vars says.

Whatever project emerges as a fit for Greater Minnesota will also involve a restructuring of Nice Ride's management. Yesterday, the program posted a job opening for a "Director of Greater Minnesota Strategies," and the new hire will lead the charge on fleshing out just what the next phases of expansion might look like.

"I would imagine that by the end of the summer, we'll probably have something pretty well mapped-out that we'd want to try to develop," Vars says. "Where it's going to go, I can't really say. We're just kicking it off."

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