How a Buffalo BikeShare pilot turned into the future of Uber

Reddy bikeshare bikes photo.

Buffalo BikeShare tested its dockless system technology at UB, which continues the program today with specially branded bicycles. Photo: Douglas Levere

By Brenna Zanghi

Published April 8, 2019

“Mike and Creighton were steadfast in their drive to improve transport access for everyone through car sharing and bicycle sharing. Their hard work paid off and has changed the landscape of the sharing economy in Buffalo and beyond”
Daniel Hess, professor and chair
School of Architecture and Planning

Last April, in a move signaling the company’s pivot from ride sharing to non-vehicular transportation, Uber — recently named the most valuable venture-backed U.S. startup — purchased a bike-share company for a reported $200 million.

There’s a vital Buffalo connection between Uber and JUMP Bikes, which developed the world’s first dockless, shareable bicycle: The company’s dockless technology was piloted at UB.

Faculty, staff and students may remember the original bikes that appeared on the North Campus in 2013. Bike-sharing programs had already begun to appear in major European cities, but UB, thanks to a collection of dedicated urban planning students and a few visionary leaders, became the most important pilot community of all.

The brainchild of Creighton Randall and Michael Galligano, both 2009 graduates of UB’s Master of Urban Planning program, Buffalo BikeShare sought to improve upon already-existing bike-share programs by utilizing new technology and planning.

The program was broken into two wings, with one branch focused on current operations and the other focused on testing new technology in the growing niche of the transportation market. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) provided Buffalo BikeShare with initial funding for the pilot in the interest of assessing its positive environmental impacts and evaluating its potential for replication.

Galligano and Randall say they wanted to invest in someone “wacky with a vision,” and they found a perfect partner in Social Bikes (now known as JUMP Bikes), a small tech startup based in New York City. Its CEO, Ryan Rzepecki, was particularly interested in dockless system technology.

The goal of the resulting program was to utilize the isolated nature of UB to test the unique, first dockless bike-sharing program. UB’s three-campus design was seen as an advantage in terms of future expansion, with the hope that bike sharing could better bridge the campuses.

With UB already at the forefront of efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, support from the university was at the ready. UB’s Parking and Transportation Services and the then newly formed Office of Sustainability took the lead.

Says Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer: “We were looking for an option that integrated sustainability, wellness, mobility and technology into a vehicle that our students could better leverage for getting around the university.” 

“At the same time, we wanted to invest in a bike-sharing experience that could work throughout our three campuses and the city of Buffalo,” adds Chris Austin, director of parking and transportation. “Working with Mike and Creighton, we understood the innovation needed and provided a foundation that we still use today as our bike-sharing strategy. We are proud of the work our alums have done in advancing the growth of this innovative approach and grateful to have played a small part in advancing bike-sharing options.”

Mitch LaRosa rides a Reddy Bike.

Mitch LaRosa rides a Reddy Bike. The Buffalo BikeShare program was renamed Reddy Bikes after partnering with Independent Health.

The Buffalo-born bike-sharing system would be the cheapest shared mobility system yet. Twenty-five bikes were placed on both the North and South campuses in 2013. Almost immediately, 249 users signed up. Buffalo BikeShare later calculated approximately 2,883 pounds of carbon had been saved.

After the immensely successful pilot program, Independent Health showed an interest in partnering with Buffalo BikeShare to take the program city-wide in support of public health and well-being. Renamed Reddy Bikes, the program has steadily expanded, with more than 200 bikes and 40 docking stations across Buffalo.

Meanwhile, JUMP Bikes took the bike-sharing program and technology to other cities. At the time of the UBER purchase, announced last spring, the company had 15,000 bikes in more than 40 markets, including Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Sacramento in California.

Jennifer White, marketing and communications executive for Reddy Bikeshare, and UB alum Michael Galligano at the unveiling last September of 50 UB-branded bicycles.

Jennifer White, marketing and communications executive for Reddy Bikeshare, (left) and UB alum Michael Galligano at the unveiling last September of 50 UB-branded bicycles. Photo: Douglas Levere

For its part, UB continues to expand its bike-share program. Last fall, 50 bikes decorated in UB Blue and Hayes Hall White made their debut with an inaugural ride on the North Campus. The bikes are part of the Reddy Bikeshare network. Students can buy a bike-share membership for $10 a year or pay by the ride at $2 an hour.

The experience was career-shaping for Randall and Galligano, who remain involved in sustainability and transportation — and have recently enlisted additional UB urban planning graduates to advance the work.

Galligano heads up the Buffalo-based nonprofit Shared Mobility Inc., which helps communities develop accessible and affordable transportation services. He continues to support the original dockless bike-share program in Buffalo as a partner to Independent Health’s Reddy BikeShare program.

Randall, now based in Chicago, heads up Mobility Development Partners, a consulting group that has worked with communities from Los Angeles to Watertown, New York.

Galligano says his continued involvement in the field of shared-transportation services can be traced back to his time at UB, where 25 bikes on UB campuses turned into the future of bike sharing.

“Through attending planning school, my outlook on how to make differences in the community changed,” he says. “My interactions with passionate student peers and professors influenced me to think outside the box on a variety of problems that needed solving. Bike sharing was one of those ideas.”

Daniel Hess, professor and chair of the Department of Urban and Regional planning, says the issue was ripe for intervention by these entrepreneurially minded urban planners. “Many students are drawn to graduate study in urban planning by their passions for sustainability. Mike and Creighton were steadfast in their drive to improve transport access for everyone through car sharing and bicycle sharing. Their hard work paid off and has changed the landscape of the sharing economy in Buffalo and beyond.”