Venkat Narayanan was considering getting a car, maybe a bicycle — he needed a way to get around the University of Minnesota campus. Then Nice Ride Minnesota came along.
The graduate student got a one-year subscription, and when the bicycle system’s first season ended Sunday, Narayanan was its most prolific user, checking out a bicycle 472 times and logging nearly 68 hours.
Nice Ride Minnesota, the largest bicycle-sharing program in the United States, ended the season with 100,817 checkouts, beating its goal by 817.
While Narayanan stood out in number of trips taken, the way he used the bikes was similar to others, said Jake Quarstad, outreach and development manager for Nice Ride.
“He bounces all over the city, back and forth,” Quarstad said. “I think that’s pretty typical. People use it for those short trips to get around the city.”
Bikers moved between 65 stations across the city, and could access 700 bicycles.
These numbers have been ramping up since Nice Ride launched on June 10 as a partner of the city of Minneapolis and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and using federal transportation grants.
Though Nice Ride beat its ridership numbers for the year and has received praise from cyclists around the city, it hasn’t been without hiccups.
Earlier in the summer, many people were confused or angry when, while buying a one-day pass, they had a $250 hold put on their cards. This caused issues with those using debit cards, as the money was sometimes not released by the bank for up to 10 days. The amount was decreased to $50 later in the season.
Nice Ride users didn’t reflect the diverse makeup of Minneapolis. According to surveys of one-month and one-year subscribers, bicyclists were primarily middle- or upper-class, male, white, middle-aged and educated.
This may have to do with the location of the stations, said Mitch Vars, the information technology director at Nice Ride. Most of the stations are downtown, where many white-collar, high-wage jobs are located.
Many who bought subscriptions fit the “cycling demographic,” Vars said.
“The people who are riding around on $3,000 road bikes tend to be well-educated and well-off,” he said.
About 75 percent of Nice Ride users already own a bicycle. Vars said they use Nice Ride primarily for convenience.
“If you’re going to ride downtown, you need a lock, you’ve got to worry about security for your bike, you’ve got to make sure you have air in the tires,” Vars said. “I think that’s part of the appeal: We’re doing all the work for people.”
It was this convenience that helped sell Narayanan on getting a subscription.
“The problem with having a normal bike is that you have a lot of repairs,” he said. “And in the winter I’m not going to use that bike, so it’s going to [stay] in my room.”
While not all University students have participated in the bicycle-sharing program, many have played a major role in the program’s success.
The 12 stations located near campus make up about 17 percent of trips city-wide. About 58 percent of these trips were from one-year subscribers, compared to the overall average of 47 percent. This season, nearly 1,300 people in Minneapolis purchased one-year subscriptions compared to only 89 one-month subscriptions.
Over the five-month season, a total of three bicycles were stolen, and one was recovered.
Program officials hope Nice Ride will grow next year.
“We would like to expand to every community in Minneapolis,” Quarstad said, adding they’d like to go “all the way to downtown St. Paul.”
Nice Ride is seeking more funding, Quarstad said, and would like to expand to 200 stations and 2,200 bikes.
Narayanan said that while some of his friends poke fun at him, he supports the system and hopes it will increase bicycle ridership in the city. However, he said the free half hour of ride time is limiting, and he’d like to see it expanded to an hour or more.
He said he never suspected that he’d ride so much more than the typical user.
“I hope people get involved more and more and utilize the system,” Narayanan said. “That would be a big thing to put Minneapolis on the chart.”