After surviving a lull in ridership during the pandemic, Biketown, an electric rental bike service, expanded its coverage area to North and East Portland neighborhoods Monday.
Biketown is a collaboration of the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Nike, with operations provided by ride hailing company Lyft. PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera said that when the COVID-19 pandemic started, bicycling had a surge in popularity but Biketown took a big hit.
“Initially in 2020, ridership on Biketown and many bike share systems nationwide dropped significantly because people were traveling less, and there was a lot of uncertainty initially about safety with the pandemic,” Rivera said.
But in September 2020, PBOT launched an e-bike system, converting a fleet of 1,000 eight-speed bikes to 1,500 pedal-assist electric bikes.
“People are finding that these electric bikes are really fun to use,” Rivera said. “You can incorporate these e-bikes into your life much more easily than you could with the original bikes because you can go farther faster, you can go up hills much more easily than you could with a conventional eight-speed bike.”
Rivera says a year later, ridership was back to pre-pandemic levels.
“What we’ve learned as a nation, as a society, is that biking and walking outdoors are some of the safest things you can do in this pandemic,” he said.
Biketown’s latest expansion follows a survey that highlighted rider equity and where new boundaries for the program should go.
With the East Portland expansion, Biketown’s service area now includes portions or all of Hazelwood, Mill Park, Parkrose and Parkrose Heights. In North Portland, the expanded service area brings in the University of Portland and downtown St. Johns. It also includes all or large sections of the Arbor Lodge, Cathedral Park, Kenton, Portsmouth and University Park neighborhoods. PBOT staff used the bureau’s equity matrix to identify areas of greatest need for public services.
“Extending the service area farther into East Portland and North Portland seemed like something we could all agree on because we all really want to bring the convenience and joys of bike sharing to communities of color, and communities in Portland that have gone underserved by the transportation system,” Rivera said.
The expansion will eventually include Biketown stations where people can conveniently rent and drop off the bikes. Until those nodes are built, people can use the bikes and leave them in the new service areas without having to pay an additional out of service area fee. There is no cost to the public through the next several years, thanks to Nike’s commitment of $18 million at Biketown’s inception in 2016.