Electric bike share program could soon return to Boise, Idaho


A Boise bike-sharing program that ended in 2020 could be making a return with one major difference.

It’s electric.

Whether you can start boogieing around town on a shared electric bicycle as soon as this summer or next spring is still being decided by city leaders. A groundswell of momentum was apparent during Monday’s Capital City Development Corp. meeting to bring back the bikes in partnership with Valley Regional Transit. Capital City Development Corp. is Boise’s urban renewal agency.

Boise’s GreenBike program began in 2015 but fizzled out once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Dave Fotsch, Valley Regional Transit’s programs director, presented proposals Monday that could reinstate a shared bicycle program on a bigger scale.

“Transit and micro-mobility hold the key to reducing dependence on the single-occupancy vehicle,” Fotsch said.

Capital City Development Corp. commissioners showed an interest in partnering with Valley Regional Transit to bring back the shared bike system, but the board didn’t discuss how much money it would be willing to shell out. Commissioners may get a better grasp once the urban renewal agency’s staff reviews the options before next month’s meeting.

Fotsch wants to launch a program with 300 shared e-bikes beginning in spring 2023. Ordering that many bikes would take about six months, so that’s why Fotsch envisions starting it next year. He identified Drop Mobility as a company that would partner with Capital City Development Corp. and Valley Regional Transit. Drop Mobility, an e-bike sharing contractor, is based in Toronto.

The bikes would be available throughout Boise at various station hubs similar to the GreenBikes. In 2018, the program had 127 bikes and 110 regular and flex hubs. Once the pandemic began, service stopped initially, and ridership never recovered after that.

The program was paid for mostly by sponsorships. When sponsors decided not to renew, the program ended, and Valley Regional Transit donated or sold the bikes.

Boise Greenbike.jpg
Boise’s GreenBike system was nixed in 2020 after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent push could bring back a bike-sharing system, this time with electric bikes. Lisa Jordan LisasEyeView

Throughout the five and a half years, Fotsch said, each bike made an average of 0.6 trips per day. If more bikes are offered at more locations, Fotsch believes that number could increase. He said Valley Regional Transit could take in more than $300,000 per year if each bike is used just once per day.

A new fleet of 300 electric bikes would cost $450,000, and operating costs would be around $370,000 per year, Fotsch said.

Valley Regional Transit approached Capital City Development Corp. to partner on covering costs. How much money Capital City Development Corp. would contribute hasn’t yet been decided. The urban renewal agency gets its money from property taxpayers in its urban renewal districts. The agency’s money comes from siphoning off for 20 years any increase in property-tax revenue generated by properties in the districts and freezing the tax revenue for all the other taxing jurisdictions there.

Fotsch outlined two proposals.

In his first, Drop Mobility would pay for supplying the bikes, Valley Regional Transit would pay for operations, and Valley Regional Transit would keep 25% of the revenue from users, with Drop Mobility keeping the rest.

In this scenario, 25% of the revenue share wouldn’t be enough to cover the operating budget. Valley Regional Transit would need to find sponsors and backfill that budget somehow, Fotsch said.

In the second scenario, Valley Regional Transit would pay for both the bikes and the operations and keep 75% of the revenue. Fotsch said Drop Mobility, which would provide service, would still make 25%.

“The more we invest up-front, the better it is for us,” Fotsch said.

e-bike rendering JPG.jpg
This rendering shows a model of what a new shared electric bike in Boise could look like. Courtesy of Capital City Development Corp.

Electric bikes could be in Boise by summer

There’s also the possibility of a pilot program from July through October. Ca
pital City Development Corp. and Valley Regional Transit leaders could choose how much money they’d want to put toward it. Fifty bikes would cost $50,000, 75 bikes would cost $100,000 or 100 bikes would cost $150,000.

Fotsch said he’d like to have the pilot program to showcase how it can work well and build excitement for the following spring.

Earlier in the presentation, Fotsch said the increase in bikes could make the program more effective than the GreenBike program was. Some commissioners and Fotsch raised concerns that a pilot program with a smaller number of bikes might not show how well an entire system could work.

The Boise GreenBike program used to stage 127 bikes around the city, primarily tied to downtown, Boise State and the Greenbelt parks. A new bike-share program could be similar to the GreenBike program. Joe Jaszewski [email protected]

The previous GreenBike program mostly served the downtown and Boise State University areas. Fotsch wants to prioritize areas with transportation challenges and low-income neighborhoods so people have more options to reach a bus stop, go to a job or pick up groceries.

He mentioned State Street as an example, saying the bikes could help connect people to bus stops.

Fotsch said e-bike sales grew in 2021 after a record year in 2020. He said they align with the city of Boise’s climate goals and can help ease traffic if people take a bike ride instead of a car ride.

The e-bikes would cost $1 to start and $0.15 per minute, which amounts to $10 per hour. This would be much cheaper than electric scooters commonly seen around Boise’s downtown, which cost up to $0.35 per minute or $22 per hour, Fotsch said.

Capital City Development Corp. could partner with Valley Regional Transit to bring the bike share program back to life. CCDC commissioners planned to revisit the topic at their May 9 meeting to decide how much money to contribute.

“We’re ready to roll,” Fotsch said. “We just need money and bikes to make it happen.”

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