It’s a make-or-break moment for Boise GreenBike, as the bike-share program moves forward with a massive expansion of its services despite parting ways with its title sponsors.
“I have to be optimistic. I didn’t get into this business by being a pessimist. I think we can find the right combination of one, two, three, maybe even four sponsors. Having more bikes will allow us to serve more people in more areas of town,” said Boise GreenBike Director Dave Fotsch.
The plan is to more than double the number of GreenBikes on the streets over the next few years to 300 pedal-assist bikes with updated technology through a new vendor, Drop Mobility, beginning in spring 2021. The original vendor, Social Bicycles, indicated in 2019 that its bikes, which use 2G technology, would soon be obsolete, and would not update its units, nor would it continue to work with small, third-party bike-shares like Boise GreenBike.
Moving to Drop Mobility means more than an increase in the number of bikes on the streets: It would allow GreenBike to grow far beyond its current footprint of downtown Boise, enabling it to serve new neighborhoods. The new bikes also have better computer systems that make them easier to rent and compete in a transportation-share ecosystem that now includes e-scooters. Fotsch said some of his wish-list items include setting up hubs in communities of need and establishing a library of rare and unusual bikes, among other projects, further weaving the program into the lives of people who live in the City of Trees.
That plan, however, is in jeopardy. In early 2020, when Fotsch approached title sponsors St. Luke’s and SelectHealth for funds for the new vendor, the sponsors said they could give more, but not enough to meet the need. Sponsorships, particularly title sponsorships, account for three-quarters of GreenBike’s budget, and faced with new financial demands and sponsors unable to meet them, Fotsch cut ties. Now, he’s on the hunt for several new title sponsors to make up the difference: $400,000. Compounding the problem has been the pandemic, which has decreased GreenBike ridership and cut into the bottom line. An emergency grant from the City of Boise to keep GreenBike’s actual and proverbial wheels on the road has the bike-share covered through the fiscal year, which ends Wednesday, Sept. 30.
“We reluctantly parted ways [with GreenBike’s title sponsors],” Fotsch said. “This all occurred before the pandemic. We were optimistic that we could shop the sponsorship around and find new sponsors, but COVID hit, and it has been really tough to even get appointments with potential corporate sponsors because of the uncertainty of the economy. ... They’re just out of the game altogether.”
Sept. 30 is also when Fotsch and his team will remove the bikes from Boise for the remainder of 2020. They’re planning on success rather than defeat, however, and expect to roll out the new rides in spring 2021. GreenBike’s contract with Drop Mobility begins on Sunday, Nov. 1. Under the terms of the new contract, Drop Mobility will own the bikes—GreenBike owns the bikes it bought from Social Bicycles—and the name of the program will likely change, either to reflect new sponsors or at the behest of a local ad agency working with Valley Regional Transit, which operates Boise GreenBike.
In the interim, GreenBike has said it will reach out to its members to alert them to the change and give them the option to ride off the credit on their accounts or roll over their credit to the new system when it launches. Auto-renew on long-term memberships has been discontinued. As for the current fleet of GreenBikes, Fotsch said he is in conversations with local nonprofits about giving them a second life.
“There have already been some inquiries from nonprofits, so we’re looking into that. We could also auction them off. People are already saying, ‘I’d like one of those bikes,’” Fotsch said.