NHARPC SEGMENT: Bike Share in New Hampshire: Pedal-Powered Progress is Afoot

Derek Shooster, Matt Waitkins and Scott Bogle

If you visited Manchester, Nashua, or Portsmouth this summer you probably saw more people on bicycles than on your last visit – brightly colored bicycles with front baskets and local business logos. Much like in other parts of the country, bike sharing has sprung up in communities across New Hampshire. The goal of bike share systems in each community is much the same: to establish more options for people to travel by bike. However, the bike share programs differ somewhat from one community to the next. As more communities across the state consider whether and how best to implement bike share, it is useful to get a snapshot of the existing programs, track their ridership, and monitor ever-evolving mobility trends.

The core concept of bike share is creating a pool of bicycles that can be rented for short periods of time for errands, covering the last mile from a transit stop to work on a commute, or even for visitors to sightsee. Bike share programs create a convenient transportation option for short trips, reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

Early community bike sharing programs were initiated in Europe in the 1960s to expand transportation options for people of limited means. In the mid-1990s Copenhagen Denmark introduced a coin-operated system where users paid at a fixed station to rent a bike for a short trip then returned the bike to the same station or another on the network. Bikeshare programs have expanded dramatically over the past 20 years with integration of credit card point of sale and smart phone technology. The first modern program using these technologies was Velib, launched in Paris in 2007. The first in the United States was in Washington DC in 2008, now known as Capital Bikeshare. Systems soon followed in Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and elsewhere. By the end of 2017 there were at least 84 bikeshare systems around the country with over 100,000 bikes serving cities of all sizes, universities, and corporate campuses and accounting for 35 million trips annually. (NACTO)

The bike share programs in Manchester and Portsmouth are operated by Zagster, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Zagster systems in both cities feature dock station networks where riders use either a smartphone app or a text message to undock a bike from the system. Users purchase a membership to use the bikes ranging from $3 for one day to $25 for a year. Members can borrow bikes for up to two hours at a time. Once the bike is returned a member can borrow another bicycle an unlimited number of times per day.

Zagster charges $9,000 per year per bike share station, the cost of which covers each station with ten docks, five bikes, routine maintenance/rebalancing of the bikes, and technical support for the online platform. Portsmouth and Manchester each feature seven bike share stations and 35 bikes launched in 2017, with an eighth station announced for Manchester in 2019. Portsmouth’s stations are funded partly from station sponsors and partly from municipal parking revenue. “As popularity of the program increases there are possibilities for the installation of more bike stations across the city and potential sponsorship opportunities for local businesses” notes Juliet Walker, Portsmouth’s Planning Director.

Manchester’s stations are funded entirely by sponsors. Derek Shooster of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission and Bike Manchester notes “Zagster let us know that of the dozens of municipalities where it operates bike share nationwide, Manchester is the only one that operates without municipal funding.”

Nashua’s bike share program is operated by the company VeoRide, based in Indiana. VeoRide uses dockless technology where bicycles include integrated locks, and users locate the bicycles using a smartphone rather than going to fixed stations. Nashua launched its system in June 2018 with just over 200 bicycles. A major advantage to the VeoRide dockless model is that there was no charge to the City when the program launched. User cost is $0.50 for the first 15 minutes to ride.

Trade-offs between docked and dockless bikeshare models include cost, flexibility, access and streetscape order. The per-bike capital cost for dockless systems can be just 25%-30% that of a docked system. This in turn allows a larger number of bicycles to be fielded. Dockless systems allow a greater flexibility in destinations, as they are not limited by fixed dock locations. Both docked and dockless systems feature GPS technology that lets program sponsors track system usage patterns. The City of Nashua has found that the flexibility of the dockless system has led to bicycles being used in some of the city’s low and moderate income neighborhoods not just downtown, which was a goal of the program. The heatmap graphic depicts usage for Manchester’s system, showing heavy ridership in the city center, and also along the Goffstown Rail Trail. This flexibility can also have a downside, as some dockless systems run into problems with “bicycle clutter”. A subset of users left bicycles tipped over on the sidewalk or in parks or private yards. These problems have moderated as dockless bikeshare companies have improved monitoring and rebalancing and enforced rules on how and where to park bikes.

Portsmouth and Manchester “hibernate” their bicycles during the winter, and Nashua has reduced its fleet size to 25 for the cold weather months based on lower anticipated usage and to minimize wear and tear. All three cities plan roll out at full strength again in spring 2019. Sign up and check out a bike for a spin when you’re next in town and keep an eye out for more such initiatives in a New Hampshire community near you.

Derek Shooster is an Associate Planner at Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission and can be reached at dshooster@snhpc.org or via phone at 603.669.4664. Matt Waitkins is Senior Transportation Planner with the Nashua Regional Planning Commission and can be reached at mattw@nashuarpc.org or via phone at 603.424.2240 x18. Scott Bogle is Senior Transportation Planner with the Rockingham Planning Commission and can be reached at sbogle@rpc-nh.org or via phone at 603.658.0515.