Salem’s bike share program, Ride Salem, has ended after three years as its founder said vandalism and theft left the nonprofit with no other option.
Speaking to OPB’s Think Out Loud, co-founder Evan Osbourne said the group recently found itself with no working bikes after all were either stolen or broken beyond repair.
“I would say it was a good chance that within three weeks after rolling out a bike, it would either be damaged beyond repair or completely missing,” Osbourne said.
With no money coming in, the Ride Salem board voted last week to disband.
“It’s a compounding issue when you’re not getting your ridership revenue, you can’t pay for the mechanical work or any of the other needs within your organization,” Osbourne said.
This isn’t the first time the program has faced hardship. This was actually its second launch, after dealing with roadblocks during the pandemic.
Osbourne said the city of Salem saved the nonprofit a lot of money by not charging for right-of-way permits. However, Ride Salem was not funded by the city and was mostly run on donations from local businesses.
While ridership started out strong, it wasn’t long after launching that the pandemic hit. Zagster, the company that supplied the bikes and operated the app used to rent them, was unable to survive. Ride Salem lost its service agreement, which was worth about $10,000 when Zagster filed for bankruptcy in the summer of 2020.
“Our legal team said that we would probably spend more money trying to retrieve that $10,000 than we’d actually acquire,” Osbourne said.
Ride Salem decided to acquire the equipment from Zagster so it could run the operations on its own. They relaunched in the summer of 2021 to high ridership.
“There was a number of people that we connected with; new riders that had never heard of bike sharing before,” Osbourne said. “We got people emailing and praising us for the service, thanking us for for the service; so we know that we made an impact in many lives.”
But the relaunch proved to be short-lived. Within months, Ride Salem found its bikes damaged or unreturned to their bike racks. The volunteer-based nonprofit didn’t have the money or workers to turn things around.
“We can only do so much to maintain the bikes and get them back out into the fleet,” Osbourne said.
Some hope remains, according to Osbourne. Ride Salem may qualify for an Oregon Department of Transportation grant for micro-mobility programs that will be available next year, but it’s not enough to stop the nonprofit from closing right now.
“We will always keep the hope alive, whether or not we move the stations out and put a pause on the program,” Osbourne said.