Over the past few days, we’ve received a tremendous response from our riders, community supporters, and partner organizations in response to the upcoming station removals. What follows is a deep dive into the WHYs of all these station removals and answers to some of the most important questions. How did we get here, what are our plans for installing stations in the new year, and how are we working with communities? All great questions!
At Healthy Ride, we’ve been working on plans to replace our current nextbike equipment over the past 2 years. This process started with e-assist bicycles making their way into the shared bicycle market and the success they’ve seen in cities that have been able to deploy them. E-assist bicycles have proven to make bicycling more accessible to more people and promote a more diverse ridership. But there’s so much more that goes into the grande overhaul that we’re experiencing here in Pittsburgh, and so much more to consider. As a small non-profit driven by a social mission to provide Pittsburgh with a joyful, sustainable, and affordable mobility service for all residents and visitors we have a huge responsibility to Pittsburgh and to our industry.
Our current nextbike bicycles and stations have shown a solid investment over the past 6+ years. Pittsburgh was one of the first North American cities to choose nextbike as a hardware provider because they were the only system that offered a smart bike system at the time of the Request For Proposals. As you’ve seen, each Healthy Ride bike has an on-bike keypad that allows for people to rent bikes without using a clunky kiosk, passive GPS on every bike, and the cable lock allowed customers the unique ability to park bikes mid-trip without the fear of them being stolen and ability to return bikes at stations that were already full. It was an awesome development in bikeshare, and Pittsburgh was one of the first to try it out.
But nextbike was a late addition to an already saturated US bikeshare market, and very few large-midsize cities were in need of a brand new system. West Palm Beach and Hoboken, NJ were two of the few nextbike cities, and all of these systems have since closed their doors or switched to new equipment providers. Fun fact: Pittsburgh helped recycle 150+ Hoboken bikeshare bicycles in December 2020 to help support growing Pittsburgh ridership. Pittsburgh is now the only US city operating nextbike equipment. Nextbike is a leader in innovation and their business in Europe, and recent partnership with TIER, represents a major piece of the global micromobilty market. However, with aging equipment, cellular connectivity challenges, and interest in adding e-assist bikes to our fleet, it was clear that we needed to investigate new hardware partners.
Knowing that the transition was inevitable we began fundraising, applying for grants, and doing a whole lot of research. What do we see for the future of bikeshare in Pittsburgh? What does the community want to see? How can we address customer concerns we’ve received over the last six and a half years? Many, many, many meetings and phone calls later we found a partner (to be announced in 2022), and a way forward.
We established a Community Coalition of partners, customers, and stakeholders to talk about how to build a better bikeshare program for Pittsburgh by centering Equity as our core value. After 8 large group meetings we’d heard presentations from industry-leading professionals including Oboi Reed from Chicago, Tamika Butler from LA, Charles T. Brown from Equitable Cities, and Waffiyyah Murray from Indego bikeshare in Philadelphia. We’d collaborated with MovePGH to ensure the new system fit into the full slate of transportation options in Pittsburgh, and most importantly, we heard valuable feedback from our community partners and customers on what they wanted to see for station locations, pricing, partnerships, and our organization. We placed orders for equipment and started building our plans for 2022.
We feel grateful to have raised money through local foundations, federal sources, and for the first time ever, a grant match from the City of Pittsburgh. There are, however, additional state funding sources that are still pending. The challenge for us is that we don’t have the time to wait for those capital dollars before we need to start replacing equipment: PA cellphone towers will no longer support 3G coverage as of early 2022, and the 3G cellular network is a key technology in making our current Healthy Ride fleet function (if you have a 3G cellphone, this is some tough news for you too). Because of our connectivity issues we need to install as many stations as possible in 2022. Due to funding challenges we will have a smaller station footprint in year one of the new equipment. So we need to shrink our system and simultaneously ensure the greatest number of Pittsburgh residents continue to have access to bikeshare.
With 68 brand new stations fully funded (we currently operate 105 stations), we need to proceed with setting up the new system to prevent a months-long stretch in 2022 without a bikeshare system at all! Thus, we made our station removal announcement on Thursday, December 9. This is an exciting moment to be in. 15 of the stations set for removal will be relocated due to the new station dimension requirements. We’ve also used feedback from communities to make small changes to station locations to better connect e-assist bicycles in the new fleet. We’ve already started working with communities and riders to relocate these stations.
If you’re seeing dramatic reductions in your community (we see you, Squirrel Hill) please know that it is NOT a reflection of a lack of commitment. There were many factors that went into the station removals: (1) the new stations will be physically larger than many of our small, neighborhood stations and physically cannot fit at these current station locations. It will take us time to re-site these stations and fundraise to build the network, but we’re dedicated to rebuilding the network as quickly as possible, and growing to include even more communities in the future. (2) The proximity to other stations in the network. Stations with close proximity to other stations may be temporarily removed because riders may have alternative options nearby; they may not be as close as your personal favorite stations, but by walking a few extra blocks you can still have access to the system. (3) Related to proximity, is isolation. Squirrel Hill will have all of their stations removed as part of this transition. They’re not excited about this news, and neither are we. But pragmatically, Squirrel Hill stations are already an isolated cluster of stations. To leave one or two stations will not be a good use of resources. And finally, but most importantly, (4) equity. We are prioritizing traditionally marginalized communities already connected to the Healthy Ride network to receive stations in 2022.
And beyond that, we’re nowhere near done. We hope to build back a better bike share system than the one we have now. We want more stations, connections to our hilltop communities currently challenged by heavy, traditional pedal bikes, and a more equitable bikeshare program.
I know there’s so many more questions. Some of them I can answer, and some of them you’ll just have to wait and hear our announcement in February 2022 to hear all the juicy details. But in the meantime, you can hit us up at [email protected] and either myself or one of our awesome other staff members will follow up with you.
Know people who need bikes? We’ll be recycling our entire fleet of Healthy Ride bikes and are donating them to organizations who can help us distribute them to people who need access to free bicycles, particularly during this difficult time of transition for several of our communities seeing some tough station removals. You can send orgs to https://healthyridepgh.com/
Thank you for sticking with us and supporting us during this time! Let’s build the best Bikeshare for Pittsburgh!