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).
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.
“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!