Red Bike to suspend winter service amid financial struggles

Citing growing financial concerns and a need to reduce its staff size, Red Bike is closing all of its bike-sharing stations for the winter. Starting on Jan. 12, bike rentals won’t be available for at least several weeks.

In announcing the move, executive director Doug McClintock wrote a note to system users stressing a desire to re-open Red Bike’s more than 70 stations in early spring. As part of the shutdown, the nonprofit will make what McClintock described as “significant staff reductions.” He said remaining Red Bike team members will continue working during the closure to prepare bikes and stations for the spring season.

Red Bike will work with individual members to extend annual passes or refund purchases on a “case-by-case basis,” McClintock said. It took a similar approach in 2020 during a pandemic-related pause in operations.

“We firmly believe that shared micro-mobility through a (station-based bike-share program) is a core and critical component of transportation in the Cincy region, and as such deserves stable and continued public investment and support,” McClintock said.

Changing transportation landscape

Launched in September 2015, Red Bike has had a record-setting year in terms of ridership – nearly 140,000 rides, McClintock said. He voiced pride in the fact that one-third of those rides came from users in the organization’s income-qualified Red Bike Go program.

Despite the increase in use, Red Bike, like many forms of public transit, already operates at a financial loss – and those costs are only getting higher, McClintock added. Red Bike aims to transition to more sustainable and advanced e-bikes, which come with increased costs for things such as charging infrastructure and maintenance.

Additionally, Red Bike is now one of several last-mile transportation options available to Greater Cincinnati residents, especially those living in urban neighborhoods. The glut of low-cost competitors includes motorized scooters, personal mobility devices and Cincinnati’s downtown streetcar. 

As a result of those realities, Red Bike announced in late November a plan to make its first price increases in six years.

The Red Bike team at a community event.

“Entering our 10th year of service in this community this is not where we wanted to find ourselves, especially after an exceptional 2023,” McClintock said. He emphasized that Red Bike, like other local transportation networks, can’t survive on revenue from system use alone. It relies on significant contributions from corporate sponsors as well as local and federal grants.

Earlier this year UC Health decided not to renew its sponsorship agreement with Red Bike. The contract expired at the end of June.

The health care network declined to comment on their decision not to continue the deal. However, spokesperson Amanda Nageleisen stressed UC Health remains committed to supporting community organizations.

“UC Health was proud to support Red Bike throughout our entire multi-year contract that ended earlier this year, and we wish them all the best,” Nageleisen said.

McClintock thanked previous donations for “[enabling] us to reach this point, and for that we extend our heartfelt gratitude” but went on to voice a need to receive more of that support in the future. He vowed that he and his team will “work tirelessly with our partners and stakeholders to establish that support.”

“Understanding the importance of this service to our community, we are committed to finding solutions that work for everyone,” McClintock said.

“Thank you for being an essential part of the Red Bike journey,” he added. “Together, we will continue to pedal towards a brighter and more sustainable future.”

Cincinnati Red Bike

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