Red Bike to close for good, but partners vow bike share will return

Following an announced temporary closure to look for new revenue sources, Red Bike leadership has made the decision to suspend operations permanently.

However, City Council Member Mark Jeffreys and Red Bike Board Chair Anastasia Mileham have vowed to work to make sure bike-share continues to exist, in some capacity, in Greater Cincinnati.

The current situation is partially the result of Red Bike’s longtime major sponsorship agreement with UC Health ending last year. After not finding a new sponsor, the nonprofit bike-share network announced in December a planned temporary shutdown during winter months to find a new operational funding source.

Following the suspension of service, Red Bike reported it had come to rely on the $250,000 from UC Health – and missing it caused everything to cascade.

Despite repeated conversations with potential corporate sponsors, civic partners, foundations and other supporters, the organization hasn’t been able to secure the funding needed to operate long-term, Mileham said.

Red Bike had hoped to reopen in mid-April. As a result of the closure, Red Bike will be letting go of all of its remaining five staff members, including Executive Director Doug McClintock, who’s been with the organization since it opened in September 2014. He was Red Bike’s second-ever hire.

In January, the organization laid off five employees and a contract worker. McClintock plans to stay on for the immediate future to assist with next steps and the transition.

“Like all public transportation options, system revenue alone does not sustain operations,” Mileham said. She noted that fare-box revenue covered about a third of Red Bike’s operating expenses and the remaining two-thirds had to come from corporate sponsorship, community fundraising, public funding or some combination of all three.

Red Bike reported record ridership in 2023.

“Operational funding challenges are a nationwide issue in bike share,” Mileham added, using Minneapolis and Houston as examples of bike-share systems that closed. Those that remain open – Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, to name a few – receive funding through local transit systems and, in some cases, city funding.

“Obviously, we can’t spend what we don’t have, and it was our fiscal responsibility as a board to use the remaining cash to properly account for and dispose of Red Bike assets,” Mileham continued. “It was with a heavy heart that we made the decision as a board to keep the system closed and prepare a plan for dissolution.”

The future of bike share in Greater Cincinnati

At the time of the board’s decision to cease operations, Red Bike had 72 different stations in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The leadership team had plans – and capital funding –  to expand in the near future in areas such Avondale, the Wasson Way trail, Roselawn and Bond Hill.

The city of Cincinnati owns much of that infrastructure. City Hall made considerable investments in Red Bike over the past 10 years to assist with expansion efforts. However, the nonprofit received its first, and only, funding for operations from the city in 2024. Red Bike got $75,000 through the leveraged support aspect of the annual budget process.

As the Red Bike team made the rounds to inform its partners – the city of Cincinnati being first – pledges of support began to appear. They’re working with the city and other partners to create what Mileham called a “bridge plan” that would enable Red Bike to continue working toward a sustainable funding model for the future.

One of the key figures involved in those discussions is Jeffreys, a vocal advocate for a variety of transportation projects since joining City Council in 2022. Red Bike and other forms of last-mile public transportation – things like electric scooters – are crucial to a successful transportation network, Jeffreys said. They not only add to the vibrancy of downtown, he said, but they’re also important transportation equity because personal car ownership is under 50% in many parts of the city.

Jeffreys voiced initial “shock” over learning of the decision by the Red Bike board. However, he expressed a commitment to finding a way to keep a bike-share system in Cincinnati.

On Tuesday, Jeffreys said that within the next few days, he’ll convene a collection of more than a dozen stakeholders – public, private and foundation partners – for initial conversations. He expressed a goal of finding three years of operational funding, which he considers “enough runway” to give them time to get their financial house in order.

“Bike share will be back,” Jeffreys said. 

“Whether it’s as Red Bike or in some other fashion, bike share will continue to be in Cincinnati,” he added. “We’ll make sure of it.”

Red Bike

Discover more from Movers & Makers

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.