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August 29th, 2012 SAM STITES | News Stories
 

Bike-Share Snare

Why Portland’s long-awaited bicycle-rental program still doesn’t have a contractor.

news3_bike_3843bicycle - IMAGE: WW Photo Illustration
Software problems have delayed a Portland company’s bike-sharing programs in two of the nation’s largest cities and may threaten a proposed March 2013 bike-sharing launch here. 

Portland has $2 million in federal transportation funds dedicated in 2011 to starting a public bike-sharing program to “make the bicycle the preferred mode for trips of [up to] three miles,” according to the project’s description. 

But with seven months left until the projected start date, the city hasn’t decided how many bicycles it will rent out, for what lengths of time it will rent them out, or how much it will charge. That’s because it doesn’t have an operator for the program.

Transportation officials say they have narrowed the search to two bidders: Alta Bicycle Share of Portland and B-Cycle out of Madison, Wis.

“The city has a tough decision to make,” says Jonathan Maus, publisher and editor of BikePortland.org. “They probably won’t meet their target.”

Alta Bicycle Share, an affiliate of Portland-based Alta Planning and Design operating bike-shares in four cities, might seem the front-runner because of its local roots. But media reports out of New York and Chicago have raised questions about whether the company can deliver a working system on time. 

In recent months, Alta’s struggles have caused those cities to push back start dates for their bike-share programs from this past July to next March.

“The software doesn’t work,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told The New York Times last month. “Duh.”

Alta operations director Brodie Hylton says launching three bike-share programs at once will not be a problem when its new software is bug-free. 

“The issues that New York City is encountering are close to being remedied, and that’s really the bottleneck,” Hylton says. “[Portland] would not be impacted by what’s happening in New York.”

Portland Bureau of Transportation officials would not comment on their selection process or whether delays in New York and Chicago would impact Portland’s decision. 

“There’s a lot of proprietary information [in the bids], so it’s closed right now,” says bureau spokesman Dan Anderson. 

The other company being considered, B-Cycle, is a considerably larger operation. It owns a large portion of the nation’s bike-share market, with programs in 11 locations, including Denver, Houston and the big island of Hawaii. B-Cycle didn’t respond to WW’s calls. 

Portland perennially ranks among the nation’s top bicycling cities. But it has lagged in developing a bike-share system. Twenty-five American cities have successfully launched such programs. 

Bike-sharing systems in Boston, Denver and Washington, D.C., have proved well-organized compared to Portland’s 1994 Yellow Bike Project, the nation’s first bike-sharing startup. All of the project’s approximately 60 bicycles were stolen, vandalized or fell into disrepair, according to the Community Cycling Center, one of the founding nonprofits. 

Maus says although Alta is better equipped to handle a project of Portland’s scope, its delays fuel doubts in a city that’s seen plenty of bike-share failure.

“I am assuming that there are some nervous people at Alta,” Maus says. “I certainly would be. These are pretty high stakes, and every time it’s delayed, it just gives the skeptics more fuel.” 

 
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