Meet Alasdair: Operations Associate at Nice Ride

Share   |  Posted Aug. 25, 2014 by Emily Wade

“We’ll put four bikes in University East Bank, four bikes in Hennepin & Central, and four bikes in Washington & Marquette,” Alasdair McKernan says as he takes a seat inside one of Nice Ride’s white Ford Rangers.  “Sounds good, dude,” replies a voice over the push-to-talk network.  At only a little after 8:00 AM, the urban rush is just beginning.  Yet Alasdair has already been across downtown and the North Loop, taking bikes in and out of Nice Ride stations to keep up with the constant flow of commuters.  Looking out the back window past a row of bright green bikes stacked on the trailer behind him, a playful grin spreads across Alasdair’s face.  “Here we go!”  

Alasdair Loading Bikes into a Trailer 

Making the Twin Cities Greener

From 7:00 AM to midnight Nice Ride rebalancers keep the system running smoothly.  By examining a real-time map of the stations, rebalancers work to make sure every Nice Ride user will find a bike or open dock waiting for them at any station they walk up to.  Also tasked with maintaining the stations, delivering bike racks to community events, setting up rides for the outreach team, and bringing bikes back to Nice Ride’s mechanic for repairs, a rebalancer’s job is never over.     

During the week the work is more routine as Twin Cities residents take their predictable routes to and from their jobs each day.  On the weekend, however, rebalancing is particularly stressful.  Though the team tries to anticipate which stations will get the most traffic by staying informed about local events, Alasdair tells me it isn’t that simple.  “You also have to know which one of those events overlaps with our ridership,” he explains, “What type of events to Nice Ride people go to?  Are they going to the Basicilica Block Party?  The Twins Games?”  With an ever-growing group of riders the answers to these questions are becoming less transparent.

Yet Alasdair can answer at least one question with confidence:  his work really does make the Twin Cities greener.  A new study reveals that each mile the operations team racks up prevents an estimated two miles of private car use.  Less car use means less traffic, less pollution, and less trouble finding a parking spot, leading to a better urban experience for everyone—not just Nice Ride users. 

From the Streets to the Trails and Back Again

Though Alasdair spends his days hauling bikes in the city, he does the majority of his cycling off-road.  A former mountain bike instructor at a camp in New Mexico, Alasdair joins a group of his co-workers on local trails when they can find a common time between shifts.  “It’s not as much of a hobby of mine as it used to be,” Alasdair tells me.  “But I just bought a new mountain bike to start biking again, and it’s a really nice one.  As I was driving home I thought ‘this bike hanging off the back of my car is worth more than my car is,’” a common experience at the Nice Ride office.  

The comradery the operations team shares on the trails is a natural extension of their teamwork on the job.  Spending eight hours at a time alone in the truck, rebalancers must coordinate bike drop-offs and pick-ups over their network to keep the Nice Ride system in equilibrium.  The team also keeps each other company during their shifts to compliment long hours of listening to MPR.  “There’s definitely a good bit of witty banter,” Alasdair says laughing. 

Checking the System Maps

World-Class Bike Share

But it’s not all fun and games.  Lifting bikes on and off the custom-made trailers is exhausting work.  Nevertheless, Alasdair enjoys being out on the streets every day.  “I really love this job,” he says matter-of-factly.  “It feels like we’re actually making the system work.”

Alasdair takes pride in being part of a bike share system that can serve its customers reliably.  While some cities have too much street traffic to keep their stations balanced, that’s not a barrier in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.  “We almost have a guarantee that there will be bikes and open docks at every station,” Alasdair tells me.  “I like that we’re able to work as hard as we do and actually get some results.  Being able to do this is what sets us apart from a lot of other bike share systems and makes us one of the better bike shares in the world.”             

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From the FAQ

How do I return a bike?

Push the front wheel of the bike firmly into the bike dock until the green light on the dock comes on. The green light indicates that the bike is locked and properly returned. If the red light on the bike dock stays on, remove the bike and try another empty bike dock. The bike remains your responsibility until it is properly returned.