Nice Ride bike sharing in Minnesota hits a bump

Nice Ride added 24 stations in 2013, for a total of 170 locations, in what officials call a “breakthrough year” for the prorgam. Above, a Nice Ride bike in 2010. (Flickr Photo: tsuacctnt)

It’s almost an afterthought in Nice Ride’s otherwise glowing 2013 annual report: “Nice Ride provided to (Public Bike System Company) a notice of material breach of the 2010 Bike System Purchase Agreement between Nice Ride and PBSC.”

That’s some serious sounding legal language for the Twin Cities favorite bike sharing service and its signature green bikes. Even The Atlantic noted the alarm over the prospects for the supplier for many bike share programs this week.

At the root of the situation in Minnesota is the financial situation of PBSC, which supplies bike sharing equipment and programs for Nice Ride — as well as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London and many other cities.The Montreal Gazette reports the public company is “$42 million in debt, running a deficit of $6.5 million and owed $5 million from cities that bought the system.”

So, what does that bode for Minnesota? Will there even be rides to be nice in the future?

Bill Dossett
(Nice Ride photo)

First of all, Nice Ride is not part of the problem. “We’ve paid them in full. They’ve delivered all of our product,” says Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride. “This does not threaten our ability to provide great service in Minneapolis.”

He chalks up the difficulty to growing pains and the incredible success of the idea: New York has had as many as 44,000 trips in a single day. “This is an industry. This is not going away,” Dossett says. He says every city with a convention center either has a system, has it funded or has selected a vendor.

“This is an industry that’s grown incredibly rapidly. Basically the situation is that we’re getting great equipment and we have great software, but the supplier of those two resources used to be partners and now they’re competitors. So there’s a restructuring that has to happen,” Dossett adds.

Nice Ride has an advantage over other cities, Dossett says, in that it has direct contracts with both the equipment providers and the software providers, and can keep going, for now, with business as usual.

“The only issue we’re raising is the cycle of development. We want to make sure that our software going forward will be the most up to date and will have the newest features,” Dossett says. Those include, for instance, integrating payment for a bike share system with existing transit services.

But if that’s going to happen, Dossett says, PBSC needs to get its financial affairs in order, and he wants Nice Ride’s interests to be clear.