Sponsors Sold on Health, Economic Benefits of Minneapolis Bike-Share

Don’t count out Boston just yet, but it looks like Minneapolis may be the first American city out of the gate with a public bicycle system of 1,000 bikes or more. Last week, the non-profit Nice Ride Minnesota selected the Public Bike System Company (the same firm behind Montreal’s Bixi) to install its system, which is slated to feature 1,000 bicycles at about 75 stations when the first phase wraps up later this year.

nice_ride_kiosk.jpgThe first phase of Minneapolis’s bike-share system will consist of about 1,000 bikes at 75 kiosks. Image: Nice Ride Minnesota.

Boston’s bike-share will also launch this year with a fleet of about 1,000 bicycles, reports NPR’s Andrea Bernstein. With Denver planning to get a 600-bike system up and running in April, and Washington, DC working out some kinks in the plan to expand its SmartBike pilot, 2010 is shaping up to be a momentous year for bike-share in American cities.

The multi-city horse race is fun to track, but Nice Ride director Bill Dossett downplayed the competition. "My view is that if all of us weren’t doing this, then none of us would be," he said.

As each of these cities figures out how to make bike-share work, one of the interesting things to watch is how they get people excited about the idea of public bikes. For Nice Ride, the name of the game is public health and economic development. The project has attracted a broad range of support, with major chunks of funding coming courtesy of health insurer BlueCross BlueShield and contributions from local businesses.

A $1.75 million federal grant will cover much of the initial cost, with $1 million from BlueCross providing most of the remainder. "BlueCross BlueShield is all about fighting obesity right now," said Dossett. "They’re interested in
anything that encourages physical activity."

Small
businesses in Minneapolis’s downtown retail area are bullish on bike-share, he added, "because it’s an economic
development tool. It gets people to come out to lunch from office
towers a mile away."

Subscriptions ($60 per year, $5 per day) will cover 80 percent of the cost of running Nice Ride, with contributions from local businesses — who can pay to sponsor individual bike-share kiosks — taking care of the rest. Other bike-share systems, including Washington’s SmartBike and Paris’s Velib, rely heavily on contracts with major outdoor advertising firms, which have proven problematic on more than one occasion.

After Nice Ride’s first season, which runs through November (the kiosks will be removed during the winter), Dossett hopes to expand beyond the downtown core and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. "Our plan is to expand into new neighborhoods through
partnerships with local businesses," he said. "We hope to be doing those kind of
constantly."

  • Just great news all around. Pity that NYC will be a laggard on this issue.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The project has attracted a broad range of support, with major chunks of funding coming courtesy of health insurer BlueCross BlueShield and contributions from local businesses…”BlueCross BlueShield is all about fighting obesity right now,” said Dossett. “They’re interested in anything that encourages physical activity.”

    I’ve often thought that health insurers could be the wedge to open up bike commuting. The cumbersome tax subsidy enacted only affects one individual at a time, and since bike commuting is cheap, not much is saved. But a discount offered to employers to providing facilities and encouraing bike commuting could be large for the organization as a whole.

    The health insurer where I work (Oxford) offers subsidies for health club memberships, but not bike commuting.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    In other breaking news, Minneapolis found to be utterly flat.

  • Alex Bauman

    I appreciate the sentiment, Mr. Baker, but would be forced to disagree between gasps for air as I climb LaSalle Ave towards Franklin Ave.

  • When can we expect to have a bike share in NYC?

  • Larry — I was going to make a joke about your remark, “the health insurer where I work (Oxford)” — What, you have a job other than blog-commenting about unaffordable pension obligations, etc.? Who knew? — but I was caught up short by the point you were leading to: that Oxford subsidizes health-club memberships but not bike-commuting. That says it all, doesn’t it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “What, you have a job other than blog-commenting about unaffordable pension obligations, etc.? Who knew?”

    Yup, I write (or sometimes edit) a 7-14 page research report on the economy and real estate market of some part of the country every day. Today was New York office, tomorrow DC apartment.

    All I really want is a handicapped stall, so I can have enough room to change into and out of business casual without fear of having something fall in the toilet (hasn’t happened yet fortunately). Perhaps if Oxford offered a discount, it might happen.

  • Re #3:

    In a startling development, it was revealed that Jeffrey W. Baker has never been to the Twin Cities…

  • Doug

    San Francisco has tons of bike commuters and it’s notoriously hilly. So why does it matter that one city is flat or not? Boston also has a fair amount of hills.

    I don’t know if I see the problem in a health insurance company giving subsidies for gym memberships but not for bike commuting. They are businesses, after all, and one is verifiable, the other is not. My old health insurance company gave subsidies for health club memberships, but you had to provide proof of membership as well as an attendance record, which was generated every time you swiped your ID card. Going as little as ten times a month netted you a check at the end of the year. You didn’t just get a check simply because you had a membership; you had to actually go. (I’m guessing the amount of people who checked in at the gym but didn’t actually stay to work out was small.)

    Since insurance co’s aren’t exactly in the business of handing out money, as we all know too well, why would they subsidize something that they can’t easily verify? There may be ways to verify who is a bike commuter and who is not, but unless you checked in every day at work, how would they know that you had ridden your bike? It’s why religious joggers, who may be healthier than a gym goer, wouldn’t qualify for such a subsidy.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I don’t know if I see the problem in a health insurance company giving subsidies for gym memberships but not for bike commuting. They are businesses, after all, and one is verifiable, the other is not.”

    How about paid bike parking and other facilities? If insurance companies were handing out subsidies, businesses would presume a market and try to meet it.

  • Doug

    I definitely think businesses should encourage bike commuting by offering parking and more. Healthy employees are employees who don’t take sick days!

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

Portland’s Long-Awaited Bike-Share System Gets Off to an Impressive Start

|
Tuesday was a very exciting day in Portland, as the city celebrated the launch of its long-awaited bike-share system, Biketown. The network makes 1,000 bikes available in an eight-square mile area of the city. Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland shot these photos of the opening festivities and crunched some numbers from the first 24 hours of service. While it’s too early […]

Boston Gets Serious About Bike-Share

|
That’s Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in the blue track suit. Photo: Boston Globe. The AP reports that Boston is looking to launch a bike-share program — and not the skimpy, half-hearted variety: The city has put out a request for proposals to create a bike share program. The proposal envisions a network of 150 stations […]

Thursday: Bike-Sharing Launches in Denver

|
Earth Day is coming around the bend, and cities are timing their new green initiatives to coincide with the public’s heightened eco-consciousness. Here’s one we’re partial to: In Denver, Mayor John Hickenlooper and city leaders are using the occasion to launch their 500-bicycle, 50-station bike-share system. It will be the largest bike-share system in the […]