New Orleans is poised to have a new bike share system by this fall, after the New Orleans City Council on Thursday signed off on an agreement between the city and a new operator called Blue Krewe.
According to the terms of the agreement, the bike share will need to have a fleet of at least 350 bikes operational by September 1. It will be managed by Blue Krewe, a newly formed nonprofit run by several people who had been involved in the city’s former bike-share program, which was suspended in the spring following a series of ownership changes. The company that started the program was purchased by Uber in 2018. Last year, after it ceased operations early on in the coronavirus crisis, Uber offloaded it to scooter-share company Lime. It never restarted.
Council members approved the five-year agreement unanimously.
“We had a wonderfully successful Blue Bikes program in the city. It was highly utilized. … It had a great equity component as well,” said councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer at the Thursday City Council meeting.
“Unfortunately, as we all know, it was bought out by a private entity … who then dismantled it,” Palmer said.
“It shows how the city can be at the whim of private investors, and I want to applaud the administration for not taking that as an answer, and trying to find another way of doing business,” she said. “And that has led to this concept of Blue Krewe.”
Blue Krewe is a newly formed nonprofit that received seed funding and other support from the Greater New Orleans Foundation. However, it is independent of GNOF.
Geoff Coats, the general manager of Blue Bikes from its inception through its sale to Uber and then Lime, is Blue Krewe’s CEO.
Coats told the City Council at a committee meeting earlier this week that Blue Krewe is “committed to bringing equitable, sustainable bike share back to the city of New Orleans.”
In an interview with The Lens, he explained that that meant expanding the system’s geographic reach and providing accessible fares, but also providing stable jobs to those working for Blue Krewe.
The nonprofit’s board also includes Dr. Corey Hebert; Andy Kopplin, GNOF’s CEO and the former deputy mayor; Destinie Hammond, the communications manager for the North American Bikeshare Association and a previous marketing manager at Blue Bikes; Emilie Bahr, a writer and urban planner; and Dan Favre, the director of advocacy group Bike Easy.
New Orleans will not directly subsidize the bike share’s operations, and it will not receive any of its revenues. Under the previous agreement with Blue Bikes, the city received a small portion of per-bike revenues.
However, Laura Bryan, the director of the city’s Office of Transportation, says the city plans to help Blue Krewe apply for grants to support its operations, and may act as a municipal partner on some of those grants. Uber also donated the existing Blue Bikes parking stations to Blue Krewe, which are located on public right-of-way originally provided by the city.
The system will likely resemble Blue Bikes, Coats and Favre told The Lens earlier this week, in that bikes will be unlocked with an app and returned to any legal bicycle parking space.
Blue Krewe has not yet purchased bikes, and many details of its operation, including prices and types of bikes, are yet to be worked out. Favre said that Blue Krewe was interested in bringing back e-bikes, but that the decision would depend on pricing. The bike purchase is likely to be in the low millions of dollars.
Blue Krewe is also allowed to pursue branding partnerships, and Coats said that the organization was already in talks over those partnerships.
The agreement stipulates that Blue Krewe will provide three types of payment options: a low-income, a pay-as-you-go, and a monthly plan. Blue Bikes offered a $20 annual low-income plan for people on public assistance, and Blue Krewe leadership said that its plan would likely look similar. The city will have an advisory role in pricing decisions, and will have the authority to reject changes to the low-income plan.