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Boston's bike share journey

Bike share has made some big changes since 2011. Here's how we are growing.

Bike share launched in Boston in July 2011. A lot has happened since then! We have more than quadrupled the number of stations in Boston (from 60 to 250). The full system offers more than 450 stations. We have better bikes and better technology. In 2023, we launched ebikes. We also have collected tons of feedback from riders and potential riders. From 2015-2016, we conducted a serious analysis to create a long-term plan for our system, guided by extensive research. We talked to our peers in other cities, and carefully reviewed our system's operations.


2015 request for information

In December 2015, we released a future-looking Request for Information (“RFI”). We issued this in partnership with Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville via the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. We asked for information about the state of bike share programs, technologies, and industry evolution. We told respondents not to be beholden to our previous operating model if they had better ideas.

Among many things, we asked about:
  • alternative ownership and operational structures.
  • providing service to more neighborhoods, and during the winter
  • pricing that helps us keep going without being too much for
  • financial models that allow us to continue the program for many years
  • ways we can quickly add new technology and equipment, and adopt best practices, and
  • engaging and recruiting new members. We want to reflect local character, support local businesses, and represent the diversity of our residents.


2016 Request for Proposals

In September 2016, we issued a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) that created a new business model for bike share in metro Boston. This RFP reflected responses to our earlier RFI. We also added findings from our own research into bike share and a data analysis of our system. We looked at how other cities were evolving their programs and what technology was being shared at trade shows. We talked to colleagues in:

  • Chicago
  • the San Francisco Bay Area
  • New York City
  • Portland, Oregon, and
  • Washington, DC.

We also watched what was happening in Paris, Vancouver, and Seattle. We looked at our own system in Boston and tested different business models and funding opportunities.

Our goals related to equity, reliability, and safety were best met by keeping public ownership and direction of our system. We would need others to provide specific services for us, including:

  • everyday operations
  • soliciting sponsorships
  • marketing our system, and
  • developing and providing the equipment.

We created a new, regional revenue-sharing and sponsorship approach. This relieved Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville of ongoing operation costs. It also provided a big expansion in our service areas. This will ensure the long-term sustainability of a robust bike share in Boston.


Today's operations

In April 2017, we finalized a contract with Motivate International. The firm has significant bike share experience in dense urban communities. Motivate was later purchased by Lyft. This contract guaranteed significant expansion in the City of Boston, along with expansion for our partners in Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. We also established rigorous service levels for every aspect of the system, including:

  • maintenance and repair of the stations and bikes
  • distribution and re-distribution of bikes for greater reliability
  • reporting, data access, security, and privacy
  • snow removal and system operations during severe weather, and
  • customer service and station area cleanliness.

The bike share system remains publicly owned and managed. But, we have opened the way for more private-sector contributions to its continued growth and operations. This meant a new partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield and a re-launch of our system as Bluebikes.

Staff from each municipality meet at least twice per month. Together, we review:

  • how the system is performing
  • provide guidance on operations issues, and
  • direct communication efforts.

We also take part in — and learn from — national conversations about bike share. These discussions are put together by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the Better Bike Share Partnership, and the North American Bikeshare Association.

What's next

We believe in innovation. A system that never changes doesn't meet our needs, or the needs of our residents.

We’re working with our operator to develop and deliver advanced technology. This includes the better classic bikes and ebikes that are on the street today. It also means future upgrades to make our bikes smarter and easier for more people to use. Most importantly, it means developing ways to improve the reliability and availability of bikes.

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