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Alta, B-Cycle on Portland’s shortlist for bike sharing contract

Posted by on August 2nd, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Bike share demo-17-17DSC_3069-9
And then there were two.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland announced this afternoon that they’ve narrowed their choice of vendors to manage the city’s $4 million bike sharing system to just two candidates: Alta Bicycle Share and B-Cycle.

Alta is the spinoff of locally headquartered Alta Planning + Design, a world-renowned planning firm known for its expertise in bicycling and walking. Alta’s President, Mia Birk, gained notoriety in the 1990s when she was bicycle coordinator at the Portland Bureau of Transportation. B-Cycle is based in Madison, Wisconsin and was formed in 2008 through a partnership between Trek Bicycle Corportation, Humana (a health services provider) and Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (a PR firm).

In a memo released today, the City’s Chief Procurement Officer stated that Alta and B-Cycle scored the highest of the four initial proposers and will now move into a final, oral interview stage of the selection process.

Alta has been on a major roll in the bike sharing business. In just a few years, they have emerged as the top bike sharing provider in North America. In March they secured the contract to provide a bike sharing system for the City of Chicago and last year they won a coveted contract for New York City’s system. That system will be the largest in North America with 10,000 bikes and Alta President Birk said winning the contract was a “game-changer” for her company and for bike sharing in general.

While B-Cycle and Alta are competitors in one sense, their business models are very different. B-Cycle, with its backing from Trek, is focused on selling its bikes and kiosks, while Alta is a full-service operator that manages the entire system, from providing all the equipment to planning where the kiosks should be located.

Both companies took part in a public demonstration of their systems in downtown Portland in September 2011. I shared thoughts on each of their bikes (Alta uses bikes from Bixi, a system developed by the City of Montreal) in a recap of that event and you can watch a video demonstration of the B-Cycle system and learn more in a recap by Joseph Rose of The Oregonian.

PBOT expects to roll out their 740 bike system in spring of next year. Learn more on the Portland Bike Share website.

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Comments
  • Todd Boulanger August 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Well Congrats to Alta! and B Cycle!

    I was surprised that Bike Nation did not make it to the final round here since they are on a [contract] roll in the LA Region (LA, Anaheim and likely Long Beach). Perhaps they did not try and are focusing on the LA Region.

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    • BikeshareFriend August 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      They don’t have an exclusivity contract with either Los Angeles or Anaheim. They’ve been given permission to set up shop in certain areas. They likely didn’t make the Portland shortlist because they have yet to ever display a working product. Even their recently “launched” single station in Anaheim is decommissioned. It wasn’t ready. Check out the various discussions at LA Streetsblog, too, regarding their shadiness as a company.

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      • anon1q2w3e4r5t August 7, 2012 at 10:45 am

        As I understand it, the setup in Anaheim was just a pilot, is Anaheim still going to use Bike Nation’s system? Where did you get the “decommissioning” info?

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        • BikeshareFriend August 22, 2012 at 10:18 am

          From Bike Nation. I live near Anaheim and wanted to go test the system, but the photos from the launch looked like a temporary installation. So I contacted Bike Nation and asked if the station was still active. They said no.

          Bike Nation was supposed to begin city-wide installation on May 1, 2012 and kept pushing back the installation date every two weeks. Today, there is still no active Bike Nation installation anywhere in the world.

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  • Blair August 2, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    New York’s system will be the biggest in the US, but not even close in the whole world.

    Hangzhou and Wuhan, PRC’s systems have more than 50,000 bikes already (Hangzhou expects to number 100,000 by 2015). Paris even has around 18,000.

    Which is interesting when you consider Hangzhou only has around 7.5 mil people, compared with NY’s 8.2 in city limits. This says that if NY improved their separated facilities, which in Hangzhou are quite good, they could probably aim for a much bigger rollout and not have any problems.

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  • Dan Liu August 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Greetings from Madison, WI! — People here are generally happy with B-cycle here since it was installed in the spring of last year, and I see lots of people using it. Anecdoatlly, usage patterns here have varied a lot, and some of the kiosks get so full during certain hours that users have to go find a kiosk several blocks off. There has been a major expansion (almost doubling?) of the number of stations here this year, especially around the university, and I suspect the powers-that-be are taking a wait and see attitude for the moment. Contrary to what I had originally thought, there are a good number of people who use them to commute here — surprising given that most people in Madison already have bikes and bike to work already. A lot of people, especially students who live near campus, have been using them because they don’t want the hassle of maintaining and storing a bike of their own.

    The B-cycle bikes themselves are very robust and a lot of fun to ride. The only minor maintenance issue the B-cycles have so far is that the bells are these little plastic thingies, and most of them have already broken off…

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  • Sunny August 2, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Did you hear that Alta? Weld cowbells to the handlebar and you’ve won the game.

    What a great idea, cowbells on bikes.

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  • meh August 3, 2012 at 7:46 am

    A little more background on Alta and their New York deal, it did not go as well as planned, a change in software delayed the go live and could result in lawsuits.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/metropolis/2012/07/27/for-bike-share-firm-delay-could-cost/

    As for the Chicago deal, they are under investigation for irregularities with regards to the person who drafted the RFP (an intern for the city of Chicago) who worked for Alta before and after the bidding process and the transportation commissioner who was once a paid consultant for Alta.

    http://www.bicycleretailer.com/news/newsDetail/6746.html

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  • spare_wheel August 3, 2012 at 8:02 am

    If Alta wins will we be allowed to ride these bikes on Hawthorne?

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  • Joe Rowe August 3, 2012 at 8:40 am

    A bike Share might have a huge positive transportation payback in New York City, but this is not the right time for Portland. We’re not getting the same payback.

    This bike rental contract is a white people’s toy and problem. It’s mostly for show that we care about bikes. Tourists currently pay less by using one of the many sustainable and less subsidized Portland local businesses who rent bikes.

    I think cyclists are blind to their classism and privilege. I urge people to vote for Amand Fritz for city council because she was the only one smart enough to state we should be putting this money to services for people in poverty.

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    • Greg August 3, 2012 at 9:47 am

      So, when *would* be the right time for Portland?

      Also, do you think all government spending should be diverted “to services for people in poverty”? So the $400M Rose Quarter project? Paving roads? All for poverty?

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      • Joe Rowe August 4, 2012 at 11:39 pm

        It’s my opinion Greg, you take yours.

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    • Chris I August 3, 2012 at 11:11 am

      I’m going to vote against Amanda Fritz because she is supported by people like you. The bicycle is the most popular way that the poorest in our society get around, because it is the cheapest way to get around town. Perhaps your idea of success is owning a car? You may need to step back and change your perspectives a bit. Cars are expensive. Transit passes are expensive. Expecting the poorest in our society to use these two modes is more ridiculous than expecting them to use the bike share.

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      • was carless August 3, 2012 at 11:16 am

        Aye. When I was poor, I went carfree for 5 years. Today I view it as a badge of pride – “I survivied.” Most of my friends are amazed I lived without a car for a week, let alone 5 years. Yet it saved me so much money!

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    • Paul August 3, 2012 at 11:29 am

      These are generally free for a 30 minute trip when you’re a member. A yearly membership would cost far less than a 1-month transit pass. I hardly think you need to be privileged or be white to use a bike share system or to ride a bike. Ridiculous.

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      • Sigma August 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm

        You need collateral, most likely a credit card, to become a member. Without that these bikes will quickly disappear. Many of the poor won’t be able to provide anything acceptable.

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        • Lois August 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

          Alta’s Capital Bikeshare in DC has partnered with banks, government agencies, non-profits to create a system to reach out to people without credit cards. The program offers discounted bike share memberships plus education about finance and banking. More info here:
          http://assets.newamerica.net/blogposts/2011/banking_on_bikes-61725

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    • Andrew K August 6, 2012 at 10:45 am

      Ok, I am really curious about this comment because I have heard it several times before related to both bike sharing and biking in general and I just simply don’t understand. It’s been stated several times on other forums that riding a bike, not just bike sharing, but biking in general, is only useful for white people, privalaged people, or people with higher incomes.

      If someone can educate me as to why this claim is regularly made I would be more than willing to listen because I simply do not get it.

      Now granted, I am a white male, however I started biking long before I had a decent paying job and long before I owned my own home. I was not born rich, in fact I came from a very poor family. I went to college purely on loans and worked low paying jobs for a very long time. One of the reasons I started biking was because it made economic sense. Not being tied down with a car payment, gas, insurance, etc. is one of the primary reasons I was able to pull myself out of poverty and into a higher standard of living, even when I wasn’t making a lot of money. Beyond student loan payments, I was never sadled with economic debt because of my transportation choices.

      Wouldn’t biking be the ideal and cheapest solution for those under the poverty line to get from point A to point B?

      And then of course there is the fitness issue. I’ve read several reports that the black population has the highest rates of obesity and diabeties in the United States. I’m sure this goes hand in hand with poverty (not being able to afford healthy food, lack of education around healthy options, huge numbers of fast food chains in poor neighborhoods, lack of parks in poor neighborhoods, etc.) Again, wouldn’t riding a bike be an effective tool to help a minority population with statistically high health issues?

      So again, I’m hoping someone can help educate me here on what I’m missing. It makes me sad when I see comments about bikes only being a solution for a certain class of people and being negative thing for others.

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  • anon1q2w3e4r5t August 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

    I kind of agree with Joe Rowe, but I also strongly believe it’s also not the right time for NYC either. I’m warning you Portland, don’t launch a bike sharing program. The same goes to the LA/OC region in Cali, which is where the first real battle against bike sharing programs will take place. It may not be obvious now, but bike sharing programs will hurt the long term goals of the livable city/streets community. Also, what’s up with Alta?, so much shadiness with that company. No worries, karma is a beautiful thing.

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    • Chris I August 3, 2012 at 11:13 am

      I think you need to provide some evidence, or at least some logic/reasoning for those claims. From what I’ve heard, bike sharing has been very successful in places like Washington D.C.. Why would we not want it here?

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      • Sigma August 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm

        My guess is that the success in DC is due to the large tourist population. I’d much rather bike around the national mall than walk, for example. We don’t nor will we ever have a market anything close to what they have.

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      • anon1q2w3e4r5t August 6, 2012 at 8:40 am

        I do agree with you that I need to fully back up my claims, and I will, just not at this time. By law, if I were to openly discuss the project that I have been working on, which will back up all my claims and more, I will jeopardize an opportunity to make the goals of my project a reality. So that’s the primary reason why I’m not talking much now. I will say this, one goal of my project is to solve, once and for all, the funding issues cities seem to always face when pursuing livable city/streets projects. Even though I am constrained in what I can say publicly at this time, I just feel compelled to say something, anything, to voice my opinion that bike sharing programs will hurt the long term goals of the livable city/streets community.

        I believe Portland was the only major city to refrain from actively pursuing a bike sharing program, unlike Minnesota, Boston, Los Angeles, NYC, etc. I thought it was a smart decision they made. Unfortunately, it seems a bike sharing program will be coming to Portland after all. In the near future, Portland is going to realize they should of stuck with their initial instincts instead of jumping on the bike sharing bandwagon.

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        • Andrew K August 6, 2012 at 10:57 am

          “goal of my project is to solve, once and for all, the funding issues cities seem to always face when pursuing livable city/streets projects”

          This is an excellent goal and I really hope you succeed!

          However, your post really just amounts to an anonymous person saying “hey, bike sharing is bad, just trust me on this.”

          I’m honestly not totally sold on the concept of bike sharing, but this is coming from someone who rides a bike everyday just about everywhere I go. Renting a bike just simply doesn’t address any of my personal needs. But hey, that me.

          I fail to see however how a bike share system would damage other projects in the city. It’s not like we can only work on one piece of the puzzle at a time. I understand you can’t share information about your particular project but can you show us evidence that bike sharing diverts from other projects and goals already in the works?

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          • anon1q2w3e4r5t August 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm

            “However, your post really just amounts to an anonymous person saying “hey, bike sharing is bad, just trust me on this.”

            Your assessment of my post(s) is pretty much dead on.

            “I’m honestly not totally sold on the concept of bike sharing, but this is coming from someone who rides a bike everyday just about everywhere I go. Renting a bike just simply doesn’t address any of my personal needs. But hey, that me.”

            I nominate you to be head of Portland’s Transportation Department.

            “I fail to see however how a bike share system would damage other projects in the city.”

            I want to tell you, and everybody else that’s concerned with livability in our cities, but I cannot at this time, I’ve already stated my reason why. All I can say now is that I am working as fast as I can to provide the evidence that will fully back up my claims.

            Dear Portland,

            Not committing to bike sharing program for another year or two isn’t going to hurt.

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            • Alan 1.0 August 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm

              A year or two is a long time for a bikeshare system. If Portland had jumped in a few years ago when the idea was new, by the time your doomsday prediction is unveiled it would have largely amortized the system and reaped the benefits of its ridership. Even if a bikeshare system turned out to be totally unworkable in Portland (unlike in many cities where it works well), the hardware is readily sold and transported to another town.

              If you’re telling us that people, cities or bikes, or any combination of those, is inherently doomed in the next two years, well, that’s an intriguing assertion but hardly one I’m going to base my plans on. ;)

              BTW, as discussed in previous threads, there are plenty of situations where a person will choose to leave their own bike locked up and instead hop on a bikeshare. It’s not an either/or proposition.

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              • anon1q2w3e4r5t August 7, 2012 at 10:05 am

                “A year or two is a long time for a bikeshare system.”

                Is the general public in Portland demanding to have a bike sharing program now? Does the general public in Portland even know what a bike sharing program is and how it works? So no, I don’t think a bike sharing program being delayed a year or two is going to hurt Portland. I fully stand by my claims, but I also want to add that Portland has everything to gain if they just wait a little before committing to a bike sharing program, but they have a lot to lose if they move forward with their current bike sharing plans.

                “If Portland had jumped in a few years ago when the idea was new, by the time your doomsday prediction is unveiled it would have largely amortized the system and reaped the benefits of its ridership. Even if a bikeshare system turned out to be totally unworkable in Portland (unlike in many cities where it works well), the hardware is readily sold and transported to another town.”

                Whether or not Portland would have benefited from having a bike sharing program early on is irrelevant. I’m saying any city that plans to have a bike sharing program in place from 2012 to 2017+ is going to unknowingly hurt the long term goals of the livable city/streets community.

                “If you’re telling us that people, cities or bikes, or any combination of those, is inherently doomed in the next two years, well, that’s an intriguing assertion but hardly one I’m going to base my plans on. ;)”

                I said, “..bike sharing programs will hurt the long term goals of the livable city/streets community”, where did I say people, cities, or bikes are inherently doomed in the next two years?

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                • anon1q2w3e4r5t August 7, 2012 at 10:32 am

                  I want to clarify the part where I say, “…2012-2017+…”. What I meant to say is that any city that is planning to have a bike sharing program in place for 5+ years starting now, or any time in the future, will unknowingly hurt the long term goals of the livable city/streets community.

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                • Alan 1.0 August 7, 2012 at 10:02 pm

                  Sorry if you didn’t care for my words, but I still reject the notion that a bikeshare system will “hurt the long term goals of the livable city/streets community.” Well, I suppose that we don’t know who you consider to be in such a “community” or precisely how you define it, so I’ll agree there’s room for political, academic and/or business winners and losers in that debate, but I reject that it will hurt the goal of a livable city. Cheap, clean, efficient human transport (especially at human scale) will always improve a city when it’s offered as a piece of a multimodal transport system. Bikes are one of those pieces, and bikeshares are a discrete part of that piece. History, from 100 years ago to present, is full of examples of bikes in that role and I simply do not buy that some mystic force that only you know about will substantially change that.

                  No offense meant, you’ve presented your caveats clearly and you make intriguing statements. I look forward to you explaining all, some day. I don’t claim that bikeshares are an ultimate end-all/be-all transportation solution, nor that they’ll be around in 20 or 50 or 100 years, nor that their present marketplace (biz or consumer side) is mature. But to claim that bikeshares will doom (def: condemn to destruction or terrible fate, i.e. “hurt the long term goals”) livable cities, I simply find too much evidence to the contrary in history, academic urban studies, and personal experience.

                  Cheers!

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    • Ben Guernsey August 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      I am greatly curious how systems like this will age. And if it will be one of those ‘enviro-things’ everybody was into when we were in the early 10′s. Much the way we view other plans/systems of bygone eras. However I think we have the evidence we need between the environment and our bulging waistlines to at the very least give it a shot. And heck it’s 2mil cheaper than expanding a 1/2mi of freeway. Seems like a much better bang for the buck!

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    • Greg August 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Just like Joe Rowe, no explanation for the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt). There’s plenty of reasons to have opinions. If you don’t tell us your reasons, we can’t possibly know.

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      • Joe Rowe August 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

        Greg.

        I’ve worked and volunteered with poverty for over 20 years.

        I hear you saying that I do not agree with your opinion and that my opinion is full of FUD ( Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt )

        In the future, could you please give the details of how the public money spent on this bike share system will benefit all people? What’s your experience working or volunteering with people in the lower income brackets?

        There are many ways that multi-mode transit system reforms do benefit low income people, but I’ve yet to hear one solid argument about how bike share systems will do this in Portland.

        If Portland really needs a bike share system, let it be fully funded by the users of the system.

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      • anon1q2w3e4r5t August 7, 2012 at 10:21 am

        “If you don’t tell us your reasons, we can’t possibly know.”

        I agree with you, but I already explained in another post why I can’t give you any reasons at this time. I promise you I will fully back up my claims when the time comes.

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  • GlowBoy August 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Don’t you have to have a credit card to use these bikeshare systems? That requirement alone would exclude a large segment of poor people.

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    • Sunny August 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      you can get debit cards at safeway

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      • GlowBoy August 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm

        Still a significant obstacle for the poor.

        And if you’ve ever tried to rent a car with a debit card you would know that it ain’t the same as a credit card. In lieu of the credit line of a credit card, the bikeshare system may require a large deposit against possible loss or damage, effectively locking up the money in your account until some time after you return your bike.

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        • Andrew K August 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm

          I take significant issue with the notion that poor people have a difficult time getting credit cards.

          I mean let’s get real here. Getting a credit card when you are poor or have bad credit is easy. Many credit card companies actually specifically target poor people with bad credit so they can jusify charging an inflated interest rate. Granted I personally find this practice on behalf of credit card companies unethical to say the least, but it does happen and it’s quite common.

          However, if I had bad credit I would personally use this to my advantage. Using a credit card exclusively for something like bike sharing would be an easy way to get my credit back on track. It’s a small charge I could put on my card every month that is easy to pay off. Using a credit card regularly goes a long way in improving your credit score, even if it is relatively tiny transactions. Bike share would mean I could do a transaction on the card on a regular basis, but it would be difficult to drive the charges up to a point that would be impossible to pay off.

          It would take discipline to be sure, but it would work.

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  • Ben Guernsey August 3, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    It’s interesting B-Cycle partnered with an ad agency. Maybe Alta should partner with W+K here.

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  • Jade Koide August 4, 2012 at 10:16 am

    I was in Kansas City last weekend, where they recently rolled out the B-cycle system. Besides not having much in the way of bicycle infrastructure (bike lanes, sharrows, other bikers), the system was really easy to access in the downtown area. Just a swipe of the credit card and I was off.

    My biggest complaint about the B-Cycle is the weight of the bike. It’s a beast! A bit hard to handle, given the large front basket and stem. Sure, anyone who rides a bike regularly could get used to the feel of the bike, but for the bike-curious or for tourists, I would imagine the difficulty with steering would be a big turn-off.

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  • Richard King August 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Most cities with Bikeshare offer discounts to people below a certain income level following a registration process which assures collateral without need for a bank or credit card. Boston’s Hubway offers $5 yearly memberships with regular usage fees for trips over an hour if a resident meets the income requirements and verifies their residency.

    Anyway, there is no reason for poor people to not have valid id or a bank card. Such things are already required to receive other government benefits!

    A YEARLY membership to bikeshare (even with usage fees) is often MUCH cheaper than a MONTHLY transit pass too.

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