Biketown use has declined 75% amid virus outbreak

Biketown station on North Williams Ave.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

When Biketown launched in 2016 it was considered by some to be a cycling version of public transit. So it should come as no surprise that it has suffered a decrease in ridership like that of its more well-known transit cousin: buses and light rail.

According to publicly available ridership data, Biketown use has dropped by 75% through mid-to-late-March of this year, compared to the same timeframe last year. Between March 10th and 29th 2019 there were 18,685 rides on the Biketown system. This year the system recorded just 4,714 rides in that same 19-day period. That’s just under Biketown’s record one-day high of 4,792 rides. And to compare with transit, on Friday TriMet announced rides on their system were down nearly 50%.

To help calm fears and make sure their vehicles are virus-free, Biketown says they’re following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local health officials. They’re disinfecting high contact surfaces on service vans and staffers are wearing gloves when handling bikes. Biketown is also encouraging users to wash or sanitize hands before and after using a bike.


The fall in Biketown use comes as two of Portland’s four micromobility operators have ceased operations. Lime and Bird are no longer available, and Razor has “scaled-back” operations.

Starting April 5th, TriMet will reduce service on dozens of bus lines. So far, the Biketown system remains fully operational.

Asked for updates today, a Biketown spokesperson didn’t announce any change in plans: “We recognize that BIKETOWN is a preferred transportation option for many in our community during this time, and are proud that our ongoing bikeshare operations allow Portland residents to complete essential trips while maintaining social distance.”

Lyft, the parent company of Motivate, which operates Portland’s Biketown system, has adapted to the coronavirus epidemic in other cities. Lyft announced last week that certain types of essential workers can get free or reduced fares on bike share systems in New York City, Chicago and Boston. So far there aren’t plans for similar discounts in Portland.

On a related note, the Portland Bureau of Transportation says a planned major expansion of Biketown that would create a citywide service area and add electric bicycles to the fleet, is still going to happen. PBOT hoped the new system would be up and running by this spring, but communications director John Brady said today that contract negotiations and the public health emergency will delay any system changes into later this year. Motivate’s current contract with the City of Portland runs through April 30th.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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