Evan Ross is a serial cycling entrepreneur who understands the local bike scene and how to create a viable business around it. That intuition served him well when the idea of cheap bike rentals available in seconds from a mobile app was first pondered in Portland.
“I started my business to get more people riding bikes. Biketown works toward that same goal, so it’s hard for me to be a hater.”
— Evan Ross, Cycle Portland
Ross founded his bike shop and tour business in 2008. That’s right around the time the City of Portland’s efforts to start a bike share program were heating up. Lucky for Ross he had a bit of time before any bike share system would hit the ground. Portland infamously stalled on the program several times before finally launching Biketown in 2016.
From the get-go, Ross knew it would impact his business. “I was scared; but I saw it coming and I had time to adapt my fleet,” he said during a chat with him outside his retail showroom on SW 2nd Avenue in Old Town yesterday. I’ve known Ross for years and can recall being a bit surprised when he didn’t share my enthusiasm for bike share. A dedicated bike advocate and former member of the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, Ross wasn’t as excited about the idea as other advocates I knew.
“I knew my rental numbers would go down. That was always the threat with Biketown,” he shared.
And Ross was right. His revenue did go down. But he didn’t let that stop him from turning it into a positive.
Earlier this week, Ross announced an official partnership with the City of Portland to lead “Biketown Tours”. “Using public bikeshare you’ll cruise the waterfront bike path, discover Portland’s past and present, and ease into city riding with our experienced guides in America’s bike capital,” reads the copy on his new BiketownTours.com website.
For Ross, the third time was indeed the charm. The tours come after two previous attempts to work with Biketown fizzled out. He first hoped to get the maintenance contract for the fleet, then he tried to position his shop as the official helmet and map supplier for Biketown users. Neither of those came to fruition, but Ross maintained a working relationship with bike share program staff. And he remained optimistic.
I asked Ross how he went from seeing Biketown as a threat, to embracing it as a partner. “I realized bike share companies are really good at supplying bikes, but not in curating routes and building a connection to the local community,” he said. “Then I had this epiphany when I realized I spend a lot of time maintaining my fleet, and if I can outsource the maintenance of the bikes, but still provide the tour, it would be a bit advantage to me. I’d save wear-and-tear on my bikes — and not have to store, fix, or buy them in the first place.”
And there were also philosophical reasons for the partnership. “I started my business to get more people riding bikes,” Ross said. “Biketown works toward that same goal, so it’s hard for me to be a hater.”
Biketown (which is operated by Motivate, Inc., a Lyft company) loves the tours because Cycle Portland’s guide staff acts as a concierge to their system. The guides helps riders with rental checkout (including how to push the buttons on the keypad so they respond), offer tips and advice on how to stay comfortable on the bike (saddle adjustment is key), and they educate new riders about safety and rules of the road.
The $20 tours last about an hour and depart from the plaza in front of Voodoo Donuts on SW 3rd Avenue and Burnside. Riders get a $5 discount on their Biketown rental when they sign up. Learn more at BiketownTours.com.
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So far, Biketown hasn’t turned out to be the ubiquitous presence or dominant travel mode I hoped it would be. Instead it’s a (mostly) reliable, well-run, affordable and accessible transportation option for people who need it most.
That’s what I came away thinking after I read the 2018 Biketown Annual Report (PDF) recently adopted by Portland City Council.
When Biketown launched in July 2016, I was eager to finally have a bike share system. Even though Portland was late to the party, I assumed the orange bikes would a vast impact on how we get around. Inspired by the systems I’d used and seen flourish in Washington D.C. and New York City, I envisioned orange bikes everywhere. And with bikes everywhere we’d have bike riders everywhere and we’d have bike infrastructure everywhere and my dreams of a cycling city would finally be realized.
But that’s not how things have gone. [Read more…]
A new program offered by Portland’s bike share system gives members and account holders an opportunity to play Santa this holiday season.
Our post last week about new keypads coming to the Biketown fleet led to a discussion about the future of the orange bikes.
Commenter John Liu sounded an alarm. He said this website and “other cheerleaders of dockless and e-sharebikes” will shoulder the blame if Biketown ends up in the scrap heap. Here’s his comment:[Read more…]
The Oregonian reported Tuesday that about 450 new keypads are on their way to Biketown bikes in the coming months.
This will be music to the ears of many of you as we’ve heard numerous complaints about unresponsive keypads for months now. Unlike older kiosk-based systems, the “smart” Biketown bikes the keypads are built into the rear rack. Users must enter a PIN and/or a six-digit rental code to unlock a bike. With over two years of wear-and-tear, many of the keypads simply don’t work anymore. You press the button and either nothing happens or there’s a frustratingly long delay.
Just over a month ago, I ran into this problem when I tried to rent a bike to get home from downtown after a meeting. There weren’t many bikes available and I tried the keypads on two before I gave up. I eventually tracked down an e-scooter and got home.
The next morning I contacted Biketown’s operator Motivate Inc. and asked General Manager Dorothy Mitchell about the problem. Biketown Marketing Manager Tom Rousculp blamed the problem on their vendor, Jump Bikes (formerly Social Bicycles). He said they’d been, “experiencing connectivity issues, including a system-wide outage over the past week that resulted in a number of unresponsive bikes.”
Here’s more from The Oregonian: [Read more…]
Willamette Week’s Rachel Monahan seems to have broken some news in the 25th paragraph of her story today about how scooters could fit into Portland’s multimodal future:
“The city plans to introduce e-bikes as part of the next bike share contract in August 2019.”
During last winter’s snow, when I was combining MAX and Biketown for my own commute to the Central Eastside, I ran into a couple who seemed to be shoestring-budget tourists at the Rose Quarter Biketown station. They were extremely excited about the bikes.
“You can just rent them and get around the city?” the guy asked me. “How do they get charged?”
My face probably fell a little bit when I realized that he assumed, probably because they’re big and weird-looking, that they must be e-bikes. When I told him they weren’t, the couple lost interest.
I recently rode a shared e-bike up a hill in Seattle. It was freaking fabulous. A few other cities, including Copenhagen, Providence and Birmingham, have introduced e-bikes to their municipal bike share fleets.
E-bikes would be a big improvement for Biketown, and also a substantial investment in both capital and operations. It’s not clear from Willamette Week’s reporting whether the city has funding lined up yet.
(Thanks to Monahan for highlighting this scoop on Twitter.)
Can you believe it’s already been two years since those bright orange bikes hit the streets of Portland?
Since the launch, the system has tallied over 700,000 rides and there are over 101,000 active users. In a presentation to the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee on July 9th, bike share program manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth with the Portland Bureau of Transportation said Biketown is on an upward trajectory. “There’s been a lot of growth in 2018,” he said. “We’ve really hit a sweet spot.”
Hoyt-McBeth endured years of delays as PBOT launched bike share long after they expected to. In February 2007 we proclaimed “The race is on!” among big cities who wanted to be the first to get a major system on the streets. Portland ended up 64th. Acknowledging that late entry to the market, Hoyt-McBeth told the committee that, “We felt like it was incumbent upon us to learn from other cities and try to be innovative with what we did.” [Read more…]