BOISE — The iconic green bikes on Boise’s streets are set for an upgrade, whether it was planned or not.
On Tuesday, Boise GreenBike Executive Director Dave Fotsch explained the future of the city’s bike-share program to city council. The technology that manages payment for and the tracking of the bikes, Social Bicycles, is closing that section of its business, so GreenBike officials are looking for new options.
Fotsch said the change is an opportunity to consider electric-assist bicycles, instead of traditional pedal-powered bikes. GreenBike staff is considering several vendor proposals.
Fotsch said the goal is to bring 500 bikes to the city, up from the 127 there are now. Rides cost $5 per hour, and the majority of customers pay as they go, parking the bike at any designated GreenBike docking station when they’re done.
In expanding its fleet, GreenBike wants to use the docking stations that are already installed. The organization hopes to continue working with its sponsors, which cover about half of the budget for the program.
With the popularity of e-scooters cutting into the bike share’s ridership, GreenBike has been planning for months to grow its fleet by 120 bikes. Then it got the news about Social Bicycles, and everything changed.
“We were going to grow our system, but because of problems with the technology, we had to turn that money back and cancel the order. And that left us without money, and just ideas,” Fotsch told the council.
Electric bicycles look nearly identical to traditional options. Instead of an e-scooter or a motorcycle where an engine does all of the work, electric bicycles have a motor that boosts the power. This makes riding up hills, against headwind and for long distances more manageable, and allows the rider to go farther without getting tired.
The GreenBike system, which launched in 2015, works on outdated 2G and 3G cellular technology. Each bike has a system where users must enter their account number and a pin on the bicycle before unlocking it from a docking station, riding it, and then returning it to a docking station.
Fotsch said he hopes the new system will be more user-friendly. Users can become quickly discouraged if the keypads don’t work or they don’t remember their account number, and can grab a scooter instead.
“The two companies we’re looking at use a QR code or a single button to unlock the device,” he said. “The next iteration will be much simpler to use.”
Boise GreenBike use was at an all-time high in fiscal year 2018, with over 35,000 rides. However, this growth slowed down in late 2018, when e-scooters hit the streets. Many users who would have opted for a GreenBike switched to the pricier scooters, especially for trips less than a mile.
Both Bird and Lime scooters cost 31 cents per minute and $1 to start riding. Spin charges 15 cents a minute with a $1 to start fee. At $5 an hour, the GreenBike would come to roughly 8 cents a minute.
Despite the popularity of the scooters, ridership on GreenBike still exceeds the levels of fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
Mayor Dave Bieter was pleased to hear GreenBike is doing well despite the competition from scooters.
“I thought the dawn of the scooters were going to be the end of GreenBike,” he said, “and I couldn’t be more pleased that they are coexisting as well as they are.”
LimeBike was the first company to approach Boise about dockless modes of transportation last summer. When the company came to the city, the initial idea was to roll out dockless bicycles, some e-bicycles and e-scooters. By launch time, the company chose only to deploy scooters.
Although LimeBike could bring e-bikes to the city, Boise’s long-range planning director, Daren Fluke, said he does not expect a mid-sized city like Boise to have those devices brought in by the private sector.
“(Companies) are only choosing to deploy them in very large cities,” Fluke said. “… They could have a mixed fleet of e-bikes and e-scooters (in a mid-size city), if they so choose, but I really don’t anticipate that.”