Bike Easy has advocated for bike share in New Orleans for over a decade. Bike share is a healthy, equitable, and affordable transportation option that contributes to quality-of-life in the region. I’m thrilled to be working on behalf of Bike Easy to help build a new bike share system and continue the momentum for better biking in Greater New Orleans as a Board Member of Blue Krewe, the new non-profit bike share operator for New Orleans.
After over 2 years of Blue Bikes, there is proof of concept – we know bike share works for New Orleans! In the first two years of Blue Bikes operations, over 66,000 riders rode more than a million miles. In 2019 alone, riders took over 276,000 trips — an increase of 66% over 2018 ridership. Trips by riders in our reduced-fare program increased 109% between year one and year two of Blue Bikes’ operation. For many in this group, bike share is an essential way for them to get to work and move safely through the city.
Unfortunately, the venture-capital fueled companies based elsewhere had too much control of that system and jettisoned the people of New Orleans as they shuffled their investments. Long story short – SoBi became JUMP which Uber bought, then Uber sold JUMP to Lime impacting cities throughout the country, and Lime decided to pull JUMP out of New Orleans along with other cities. Well, first Lime tried to strongarm the City into allowing e-scooters in exchange for running bike share. The City rightfully balked. Then, Lime scuttled a deal at the last minute that would have kept the bikes here, even if their company wasn’t.
In some ways, we at Bike Easy saw this coming. For years, Bike Easy has advocated for strong local control of bike share that would truly and sustainably serve the people of New Orleans. In 2016, however, the City did not agree to financially invest in the original system, ensuring more local control. Our community has now paid the price. Still, we worked with what we had and now feel incredibly proud of what we accomplished with Blue Bikes to promote more riding, bike safety, and especially, the Blue Bikes for All equity program.
Companies, like Uber and Lime, put profit before people in their management of New Orleans’ bike share — our next bike share must, and will, prioritize the people of New Orleans first and foremost.
As I navigated the confusing end of Blue Bikes 1.0, the idea of local control once again became paramount, especially as the amount of dedicated local support for bike share was on such bright display. An informal consortium of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, Bike Easy, and many others jumped into action, working with the City of New Orleans, to try to keep Blue Bikes here. Over time, that morphed into the team that would work to bring bike share back.
Blue Krewe is a new nonprofit established to relaunch and operate bikeshare in partnership with the City of New Orleans. Incubated and supported by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the mission of Blue Krewe is to provide the Greater New Orleans region with equitable bikeshare that is rooted in our community and supportive of our community. Bike Easy advocated for and applauds the adoption of the non-profit governance approach to bike share that has proven successful in other cities around the country, from Nice Ride Minnesota and Healthy Ride Pittsburgh to Explore Memphis and Houston BCycle. Huge thanks to the Greater New Orleans Foundation for making this approach possible here!
With approval from the Bike Easy Board of Directors, I have the honor of serving as a Founding Board Member and Board Secretary for Blue Krewe. I’m excited to be able to formally represent the interests of Bike Easy’s Members and supporters, along with the general community of people who ride or would like to ride bikes.
Blue Krewe is just getting started, and we’ve already got a great team coming together. Other board members include:
- Dr. Corey Hebert, Board President – CEO, College Health TV; Chief Medical Editor, Black News Channel; Chief Medical Editor, WDSU NBC-TV; Asst. Prof., Louisiana State University; Asst. Prof., Tulane University; Chief Medical Officer, Dillard University;
- Andy Kopplin, Board Treasurer – CEO and President, Greater New Orleans Foundation;
- Destinie Hammond, Board Member – Communications Manager, North American Bike Share Association.
- Emilie Bahr, Board Member – Urban Planner | Walking + Biking Evangelist
One of our first acts as a board was hiring our CEO, Geoff Coats. Geoff was the manager of Blue Bikes under SoBi and then Uber, where he scaled the system from start-up to massive expansion before corporate leaders pulled out the rug. Geoff brings deep institutional knowledge of bike share, entrepreneurial spirit and experience, and a dedication to the local community. While many in the biking community may only know Geoff from his Blue Bikes days, he has been active in the New Orleans community for decades, from his work as a founder of the Urban Conservancy to building and managing a local design firm to playing in bands around town. All of us on the board of Blue Krewe are grateful for his service in bringing bike share back to New Orleans!
The City of New Orleans has remained dedicated to ensuring bike share remains an accessible and equitable transportation option, and relaunching bike share will be a collaborative effort between the City, Blue Krewe, and the entire community. Blue Krewe and the City of New Orleans are in the midst of formalizing the partnership between the two entities, and this week, the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement goes before the City Council. From that point on, there will be many decisions and details still to come as we build towards a late summer relaunch, and we’ll need community engagement and support!
While I’m confident in the non-profit approach, it does come with trade-offs. Primarily, the easy (though whimsical and capricious) cash flow of VC-backed endeavors is no longer there, and the finances are much tighter. We’ll need sponsors, we’ll need large businesses buying bulk passes for staff, we’ll need more New Orleans residents buying and using passes, and more.
We’ll also need your patience and long-haul support as we grow the system more slowly, and more sustainably, than the previous iteration. We’ll undoubtedly be starting with fewer bikes than we had before. We won’t have the marketing budget or the same level of staffing. We’ll be trying out new bike designs and tweaking over time to make sure they withstand the rigors of riding in New Orleans. As the details continue to develop, we’ll continue to look for your input, engagement, and support in order to create a bike share system that is truly for, and by, the people of New Orleans!
Bike Easy has always focused on ensuring bike share is equitable and sustainable, and that is the charge I carry with me in my role on the Blue Krewe Board of Directors. From the necessity of ensuring deeply affordable and accessible “Blue Bikes for All” reduced fare passes and hubs being placed in underserved neighborhoods, to dedicated outreach and engagement efforts and equitable hiring practices, I’m glad to report that the board and staff of Blue Krewe and the City of New Orleans are all on the same page for creating a bike share system that serves low-income and communities of color that have so often been left out of transportation planning and investments.
Of course, the details of implementation matter, and there is still much to be determined. I look forward to having all of you join the ride as Blue Krewe works to relaunch bike share. Together, we can build a better world by removing barriers to active transportation for all the people of New Orleans and getting more people moving sustainably with bike share.