Urban micromobility can’t thrive without a bike share service. Companies like Uber and Lyft have launched programs across major metropolitan areas like New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Denver. There are 300 bike-share services in North America and counting.
Rentable bikes are a clean and cost-effective method of ending reliance on cars. In New Orleans, there has been a significant revamp of the city’s Blue Bikes program.
The Big Easy has been implementing micromobility since Hurricane Katrina. The disaster’s aftermath opened the door for bike sharing, especially with roads severely damaged. Citizens called for better transportation options to get to essential errands and appointments. To date, one in five people in the city doesn’t have a car. In 2008, the first bike lane opened; seven years later, 100 miles of trails were built, connecting many prominent neighborhoods.
In 2016, Social Bicycles (later renamed Jump) penned a five-year deal with New Orleans as the official bike share provider and hired Geoff Coats to run it.Blue Bikes started in 2017. By 2018, the first of two ownership changes (Jump to Uber) occurred, stunting the program’s progress in the city.
Blue Bikes was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Uber moved the bike share contract to Lime, which wanted to bring scooters to New Orleans. The city wasn’t interested in them and canceled the contract. However, officials did see the value in the bike sharing program. Coats started plotting a strategy to bring it back.
He reached out to Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Louisiana and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, securing financial support. Within three months, the parties had a strategy in place.
A nonprofit called Blue Krewe would handle business operations, which doesn’t profit directly from bike rides. It was decided that the rate would be 15 cents per minute, or people could purchase a $25 monthly membership.
These are still the rates to date. Also, Blue Krewe mechanics would be full-time employees, scrapping the gig-employment model other bike-share services use.
“Blue Bikes promotes healthy exercise and gives residents an easy way to get to work or school, go to medical appointments, or shop at full-service grocery stores and farmers markets,” said Dr. I. Steven Udvarhelyi, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana president and CEO, in a press release.
The revival of Blue Bikes in late summer 2021 aligns with more climate-friendly changes in New Orleans. The city is eying carbon neutrality by 2050, with some policies to limit the number of automobile trips into the city limits. Officials also want to expand the bike-share program to 2,500 bikes. The current number is 800, with the addition of 300 new bikes in January.
There are also plans to install 75 more miles of low-stress bikeways across New Orleans. Electric bikes will feature as the transportation mode of choice. In addition, facts on the health benefits of biking are included in the city’s climate change strategy.
Blue Bikes has a long way to go before it’s considered as influential as Uber and Lime. However, the players involved see a bright future.
“The expansion of the Blue Bikes fleet is a clear demonstration that our city continues to move toward a more equitable and environmentally-sustainable future,” said Andy Kopplin, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation and treasurer of the Blue Krewe board, in a statement.