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NDSU study: Fargo bike-share program's strong start affected bus ridership

Dan Berglund, a sophomore at North Dakota State University, checks out a bike Friday, April 17, 2015, from a bike-sharing station on the Fargo campus. He is one of 4,000 NDSU students to use the month-old program saying, "These are friggin awesome". Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — In its first two years, Great Rides Bike Share has enjoyed ridership that's the envy of bike-share programs in much bigger urban areas to the point that it's made a tiny dent in Fargo's bus ridership, according to a new report.

The Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University found in a June report that between 2015 and 2016, Great Rides averaged 5.3 rides per bike per day, higher than similar programs in New York, Chicago and Minneapolis.

That's a total of 237,000 rides.

"You think of a smaller community like Fargo, maybe not something people would've thought would be as successful as it is, initially," said Alyssa Johnson, Great Ride's operations director. "So we're very proud of that and very grateful for how the community has really embraced bike shares, especially NDSU campus."

Like other bike-share programs around the country, Great Rides offers bikes for rent at docking stations. NDSU students get free rides if they're 30 minutes or less because they paid for the program with student fees. Non-students pay $4 an hour or subscribe for $15 a month.

The NDSU report said the bike-share program has become a true transportation alternative for some riders who opted for the bike rentals over buses or automobiles, especially on warm, sunny days. Statistical analysis found the MATBUS system lost 15 bus trips with every 100 bike-share rides. There was no similar statistic for automobiles.

But the report also noted that ridership plummeted 29 percent between the first and second year, which it suggested might have been because the novelty of bike sharing in this area led many more people to give it a try in the first year.

Of the total rides, 138,000 were in 2015, which is 6.1 rides per bike per day, and 99,000 in 2016, which is 4.4 rides per bike per day.

Johnson said the weather was also less favorable in the second year and, as the report found, ridership is very sensitive to rain and extreme temperatures.

So far this year, there's been 39,000 rides, which works out to four rides per bike per day.

This isn't indicative of a decline though because the vast majority of bike-share users, about 95 percent, are NDSU students so ridership drops significantly between early May and late August when school's out.

In the spring, starting in late March when Great Rides brings the bikes out of winter storage, ridership was between five and six rides per bike per day, Johnson said.

For comparison, Citi Bike in New York City averaged five rides per bike per day between 2015 and 2016. Divvy Bikes in Chicago averaged 2.1, and Nice Ride in the Twin Cities averaged 1.3.

There appears to be room for growth in Fargo.

Great Rides now has 11 bike-share docking stations, four on the NDSU campus and the rest around downtown, but the ones on campus provide the majority of the rides despite university classes and offices downtown and despite the growing downtown population.

Around campus, students told NDSU researchers they'd like to see new locations at apartments to the south and Hornbacher's supermarket to the north.

Great Rides officials have also discussed an expansion into downtown Moorhead.

Because the bike-share program is so new, Johnson said she has to be cautious about trying to expand its market share.

Great Rides is working to have businesses provide memberships to employees the way the Kilbourne Group has, which would expand the program beyond its base customers, she said. The program is also in early talks to bring Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College students on board, she said.

On the web: To read the NDSU study, go to " target="_blank">bit.ly/2syvyQG.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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