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Annual Manual 2018: Boise GreenBike: Raising the Seat Post

Boise's own bike-share has become one of the most iconic ways to get around the City of Trees


There was work to be done at Boise GreenBike's State Street headquarters. A shipment of 90 bikes had arrived from a sister program in Topeka, Kansas, several of which waited for mechanics to mine them for spare parts. Another 115 new bikes were on their way from Social Bicycles—GreenBike's supplier—too, but the program's director, Dave Fotsch, said riders shouldn't expect to see them in new neighborhoods just yet.

  • Jason Jacobsen

"We can't spread ourselves any more thin without pissing off and denying our customer base we have downtown," Fotsch said.

GreenBike operates almost entirely in Boise's downtown core using a "dock" model: Users pick up and drop off their rides at hubs, but must pay a $2 redocking fee if they park the bikes elsewhere. Fotsch said that with its current fleet of 127 bikes, GreenBike can ill afford to expand into the Bench, East End and Foothills neighborhoods, even with the new shipment.

The bikes are, nevertheless, extremely popular. Rides are cheap—$5 per hour—and there are membership options available for locals who use GreenBike frequently. During peak months, an individual bike is ridden an average of 1.5-1.7 times per day. In May, the number of rides per bike per day was between 2 and 2.5.

"We'd love to see three, four rides per bike per day, but it's a matter of where the bikes are, where the people are, and are they convenient to each other. With only 127 bikes, people can go to a station and find that there's nothing for them there," Fotsch said.

  • Harrison Berry

Despite growth in ridership, it could be a long while before GreenBike has hubs in every corner of the city. It may face stiff competition soon, too, from venture capital-funded dockless bike-shares, which have dropped thousands of bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters in other cities. Boise is currently being eyed by two such dockless bike-shares. One has told city officials it wants to enter the Boise market with a mix of 300 bikes and e-bikes, and an additional 900 e-scooters. Another would like to deploy a bike for every 100 residents—2,200 bikes in all.

Fotsch said if they begin operating in Boise on the scale they say they will, they could wipe GreenBike off the map.

"If they're going to come in here with a bike for every 100 residents, there's just no way we can compete, honestly. They have us by the numbers. We will soldier on, but I don't see a bright future for us if they are successful in bringing in that number of bikes," he said.

This is a crucial moment for bike-shares in Boise, but GreenBike is looking for—and may be on the cusp of finding—ways to stay in the game.

"This time next year, we'll have 275 bikes. ... These bikes [from Kansas] are certainly a nice upgrade from this model. We can still remain competitive," Fotsch said.