Salem’s bike share program dead after vandalism and theft

A street in Oregon with a bike lane painted on it.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Salem’s bike-sharing program, Ride Salem, ended after three years because 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 had recently been left without bikes in working order after all were stolen or broken beyond repair.

“I would say there was a good chance that within three weeks of a bike being deployed it was either damaged beyond repair or missing completely,” Osbourne said.

With no money, Ride Salem’s board of directors voted last week to disband.

“It’s a problem that gets worse when you don’t get your goodwill revenue, you can’t pay for mechanical work or whatever else is needed within your organization,” Osbourne said.

This is not the first time that the program has encountered difficulties. This was actually its second launch, having faced 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 operated primarily through donations from local businesses.

While traffic started strong, it wasn’t long after launch that the pandemic hit. Zagster, the company that provided the bikes and operated the app used to rent them, couldn’t survive. Ride Salem lost its service contract, which was worth around $10,000 when Zagster filed for bankruptcy in the summer of 2020.

“Our legal team said we would likely spend more money trying to get that $10,000 back than we would actually acquire,” Osbourne said.

Ride Salem decided to acquire the equipment from Zagster so that he could handle the operations on his own. They relaunched in the summer of 2021 with high attendance.

“There were a number of people we were in contact with; new riders who had never heard of bike sharing before,” said Osbourne. “We received emails and compliments for the service, thanking us for the service; so we know that we have had an impact in many lifetimes.

But the revival proved to be short-lived. Within months, Ride Salem found their bikes damaged or not returned to their bike racks. The volunteer-based non-profit organization had neither the money nor the workers to make a difference.

“There’s not much we can do to service the bikes and get them back into the fleet,” Osbourne said.

Some hope remains, according to Osbourne. Ride Salem may qualify for a grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation for micro-mobility programs that will be available next year, but that’s not enough to prevent the nonprofit from closing now .

“We will always keep hope alive whether or not we move stations and pause the program,” Osbourne said.

Lance B. Holton