Biketown booms as system blows through record ridership

A celebratory graphic. (Source: Biketown)

“Biketown continues to show us that we can make biking available to everyone.”

-Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

With a month and a half left in the year, Portland’s electric bike share system Biketown can already declare 2022 a huge success. After starting the year off with a major expansion into north and east Portland, Biketown’s trajectory has been unstoppable this year. Thanks to a confluence of factors — ranging from skyrocketing gas prices to more awareness of the Biketown for All reduced price program to an overall embrace of electric bicycles as car alternatives — bike share in Portland has never been more popular.

To put some numbers on it: over half a million trips have been taken on Biketown so far this year. This surpasses the previous annual ridership record of about 400,000 set in 2018 (back when the bikes weren’t electric).

We covered many of the major moments on Biketown’s 2022 highlight reel which give some insight into the efforts the program took to get more people on their bright orange bikes. One of the first signs of the bike share system’s growth took place during Earth Day weekend, when the program shattered their previous daily records after allowing everyone to ride free of charge for three days (it didn’t hurt that weekend was sunny and gorgeous).

Data from Ride Report shows how far Portlanders traveled on Biketown in 2022. (Source: Ride Report)

As their user base grew larger, it also diversified, which they program proudly announced in a report this spring. Then Biketown ramped up their outreach efforts throughout the summer. They set up tents at Sunday Parkways events, sponsored Pedalpalooza rides and teamed up with non-profit The Street Trust (TST) to draw more people into Biketown for All so they can ride for free (or almost free). We even spotted some local politicians on the orange bikes at the Blumenauer Bridge opening.

In a press release from the Portland Bureau of Transportation heralding Biketown’s big year, PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty expounded on the program’s success.

“Biketown continues to show us that we can make biking available to everyone when we work together to prioritize community members who need green, affordable transportation the most,” Hardesty said.

TST’s André Lightsey-Walker, who’s been leading the non-profit’s outreach efforts with Biketown for All to increase transportation equity in Portland, told BikePortland the work has been enlightening.

“Yes, we need more bikes, but we also need to make sure that the people who would benefit most from having access to them are able to do so seamlessly within the system we already have.”

– André Lightsey-Walker, The Street Trust

“This year’s record numbers prove that there is high demand for the expansion of Portland’s bike-share system. The Street Trust’s partnership with Biketown and Lyft offered a ton of insight into what needs to be considered as the system grows,” Lightsey-Walker said.

However, some advocates fear Biketown has a major blind spot holding back its success: supply and demand. As ridership increases, it appears the program has struggled to add new bikes to its fleet at the same pace. Especially during the summer months, it was very common to see stations completely empty of bikes, which obviously inhibited some people from renting them. But even as Biketown excitedly shares their impressive ridership statistics, the program still doesn’t appear to have plans to expand its inventory. During the rainy and cold winter, this may go unnoticed, but once the weather warms up again it seems likely they’ll have to address this dilemma.

Lightsey-Walker said he thinks outreach to low-income Portlanders and increasing supply of bikes should work in tandem with each other.

“Yes, we need more bikes, but we also need to make sure that the people who would benefit most from having access to them are able to do so seamlessly within the system we already have,” he said.

It’s great to see how much Biketown has grown this year. Clearly, the people are hungry for electric bikes (no big surprise to those of us who sing their praises as sustainable transportation game-changers). My experience with Biketown was one impetus for me to embrace getting an electric bike of my own, and I would guess others have felt the same. The more people on bikes, the better, so we eagerly await the expansion of the fleet and whatever else might come next!

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George
George
8 days ago

Anyone know if I can buy a used BikeTown bike? Believe it or not but I love those bikes – built like tanks.

dw
dw
7 days ago
Reply to  George

Looks like they are made by Motivate Co. https://www.motivateco.com

Maybe you could email them and see if you can buy a bike from them?

biketown worker
biketown worker
3 days ago
Reply to  George

You cannot.

Fred
Fred
7 days ago

Bike-ee-town is purely a downtown / east side phenomenon. It doesn’t exist in huge parts of Portland, Beaverton, etc – you know, the boonies.

Will
Will
7 days ago
Reply to  Fred

It doesn’t exist in Beaverton because it’s a PBOT program

dw
dw
7 days ago
Reply to  Fred

There are some Nike bikes in Beaverton but they are only for use by Nike employees and visitors it seems.

Nicha Johnson
Nicha Johnson
2 days ago
Reply to  Fred

Like all PBOT programs it’s introduced to the wealthy / gentrified inner neighborhoods first. The outer areas might get a taste in 5-10 years, if they’re lucky.

ES
ES
7 days ago

They were just offering a $50 off discount for an annual membership and I was so tempted to sign up! I would totally use it to commute to work downtown, if only they expanded to SE. As it is now, the closest station to me is Portland Mercado, a 20 min walk away. Has anyone heard any news or rumors of potential expansion?

Buster
Buster
7 days ago

It’s an interesting contradiction that ridership is booming even as many advocates have been pointing out how hard it is to find a bike and how expensive the service is. I guess it goes to show how much high demand there is, that even despite these issues people are flocking to the service. Of course, we don’t know how much higher ridership could be if there were more bikes and a better price point. We should try to address those issues and see how high it can go!

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Buster

I agree Buster.

I think PBOT is shooting themselves in the foot by starving this program when it could be the silver bullet to many of their policy goals. Lack of ridership in east Portland? Biketown can fix that. Lack of Black and people of color riding bikes? Biketown can fix that. Too many haters saying, “I never see bike riders on your new bike lanes!”? Biketown can fix that. And so on and so forth. Biketown checks so many boxes and it’s extremely frustrating to see it lack the funding and attention it so richly deserves.

Will
Will
7 days ago

It is a very overpriced system though. Inurba rolled out Stockholm’s bikeshare with yearly passes that cost $14, and 90 minute rides costing $1. Lyft and PBOT could be doing a lot more to bring the price down.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Will

Yeah I agree price needs to come down. I’m hopeful the next phase is more bikes, lower price.

soren
soren
7 days ago
Reply to  Will

Inurba is a venture capital-backed firm so it can burn through its start up funds by offering service at a loss. Instead of relying on venture capital speculators, Stockholm and Portland should fund bike share as a public service.

https://moventia.es/en/citybike-global-becomes-inurba-mobility-and-arrives-stockholm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherpa_Capital

Will
Will
7 days ago
Reply to  soren

You’ve confused Sherpa Capital, the American venture capital firm, with Sherpa Capital, the Spanish private equity firm. The latter is who has a share in Inurba.

soren
soren
6 days ago
Reply to  Will

My apologies for the confusion but a cash infusion from a large private equity firm is hardly an improvement.

Will
Will
6 days ago
Reply to  soren

Sherpa Capital isn’t within the 300 largest private equity firms. It’s has ~1/5 the assets of the 300th largest firm.

soren
soren
4 days ago
Reply to  Will

It has provided seed funding to over 50 companies including substantial investments in the fossil fuel industry (plastics).

Bloomberg describes Sherpa Capital as

“Sherpa Capital Entidad Gestora, SGEIC, S.A. operates as a venture capital firm. The Company invests in both equity and debt of companies. Sherpa Capital Entidad Gestora operates in Spain.”

I do, however, note your strenuous defense of the privatisation of what should be publicly-owned mass transit.

soren
soren
7 days ago
Reply to  Buster

The structure of Biketown as a mega-corp-sponsored entity with no funding from the city has sabotaged the system. Until elected officials see bike share as a form of public transit, I doubt there will be much interest in system expansion.

Lowell
Lowell
7 days ago

I’m a big fan of the new Biketown e-bikes. I really wish they would expand the service to PDX airport and set up a rack there. It would be nearly 30 minutes faster for me to bike there than it is to take public transit. I could ride my own bike there, but the last time I checked out the PDX bike racks I saw way too many bikes with missing seats and wheels for me to feel comfortable leaving it locked there.

Aaron H
Aaron H
7 days ago

I realize this is a pipe dream, but I kind of wish that Trimet had control of Biketown and the fares were integrated (with mutually applying fare caps). That would incentivize more multimodal trips.

dw
dw
7 days ago
Reply to  Aaron H

Dude, absolutely. It would be awesome to be able to just tap your Hop card (or phone) on a bike and go.

Buster
Buster
6 days ago
Reply to  dw

I agree with this, too. An ideal public transportation system would have rail, bus, bikes, and even carshare (Car2Go-style) in one integrated system.

Ben
Ben
6 days ago
Reply to  Aaron H

This makes way too much sense for them to implement lol

Nicha Johnson
Nicha Johnson
2 days ago
Reply to  Aaron H

I’ll never forgive PBOT for partnering with an anti-worker venture capital backed vulture (Lyft). Not one dollar of mine will go to that company. Portland pols are too busy tooting their own horns, greenwashing over the damage that “rideshare” is doing to our climate AND our democracy.

Sadly BIKETOWN is just another arm of their greed. Fire up those lithium mines, that’s the next fossil fuel to be fought over so we can make billionaires rich.

Amit Zinman
6 days ago

The Street Trust also made this video for new BIKETOWN users
https://youtu.be/pkcEDZ_4qws

Nicha Johnson
Nicha Johnson
2 days ago

It’s almost as if rampant bicycle theft has made locking a privately owned bike anywhere, for any amount of time, highly undesirable.

I guess nobody should be surprised that the city ignores the elephant in the room– to the benefit of its own program.

CDD
CDD
1 day ago

The QR code part sealed the deal for me, no thanks. Have one of the very early membership numbers. While finicky, it was very easy to use, punch in the account #, then a 4 digit code and off you go. Perfect for 30 min lunch rides downtown, or simply 6 blocks because i’m too lazy to walk. I hate stuffing an i-phone in the back pocket, or anywhere for that matter. And showing off a $600 device in Needle Alley these days, not smart.I stopped using these bikes when they switched to the app thing. Not a fan of electric assist either. Those old tanks were good exercise!