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Local headlines go after Portland Bike Share

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 6th, 2012 at 4:11 pm

It's a "Bike-Share Snare" in the Willamette Week

The City of Portland hasn't even chosen a vendor for their Bike Share system yet; but the local media is already showing its skepticism about the project. Two recent stories — one in The Oregonian, the other in the Willamette Week — have given the Bureau of Transportation a clear indication that the PR stakes are high with this project.

Last month, the Willamette Week looked into what they see as a "Bike-Share Snare" due to the fact that PBOT has yet to choose a vendor:

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.

PBOT says they're still on track to launch the system in sping of next year and they're still interviewing the two final candidates on their short list: Alta Bicycle Share and B-Cycle. It's hard to know how much time either vendor would need between accepting the job and deploying the system, but seven months seems like a pretty short window. That being said, PBOT staff have likely already put in a lot of work planning station locations and thinking through other issues, so the chosen vendor won't start from scratch.

The Willamette Week article did point out one inconvenient truth for Alta: "In recent months," wrote reporter Sam Stites, "Alta’s struggles have caused those cities to push back start dates for their bike-share programs from this past July to next March. That’s also when Portland’s bike-share program would start." However, despite delays in other cities, Alta says, if chosen, they don't foresee any delays to the Portland timeline.

As you can read by my comments in that article, I will not be surprised if PBOT announces a delay. They've waited this long, and they have every reason to take their time and get it right.

Today, The Oregonian published a story with the headline, Portland bike-share plan worries bicycle rental shops (which interestingly reports the launch day as "by April" so maybe PBOT is already pushing it back). The story features an old photo of an upset-looking Todd Roll, owner of what might be Portland's largest and most successful bike rental and tour business, Pedal Bike Tours. Below is an excerpt:

"Some of the city's bike rental shops have been fretting for months about how they'll weather the deluge of bike share rentals about to wash over the city... "We're definitely going to lose some money, and I'm not happy about that," said Todd Roll, owner of Pedal Bike Tours."

Another owner of a major bike rental business, Waterfront Bicycles, told the paper, "In the short run, I think it really will hurt our business."

The Oregonian also introduced the fear that bike share might "siphon" people away from transit, and thus put TriMet in an even more precarious budget situation than they already are. Thankfully, a TriMet spokesperson dispelled that notion, telling the paper they're, "in favor of anything that increases bike access" and that, "People who walk or bike more end up riding transit more."

While not blatant, in my opinion both of these articles make a slight attempt to stir up controversy and/or raise doubts about the success of bike share in Portland. This is to be expected. Bike share is seen by some as nothing more than a crazy pet project of Mayor Sam Adams; and to the local media, it's a tempting — and somewhat easy — target. Stay tuned. We're due for more bike share news. And with that of course, will come more headlines.

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Comments
  • Wayne Myer September 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    "...I think it really will hurt our business?" That sounds to me like a failure to adapt. The rising tide raises all boats, except the ones with hulls that leak faster than they can be bailed.

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    • Chris I September 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      Exactly. Adapt your business to differentiate your product from the bike-share. If the bike share bikes are heavy and slow, rent faster bikes, or bikes that can carry more stuff. It's called "running a business".

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      • Ted September 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm

        There's plenty of bike rental still going on in Washington, DC, for example, even with their very well-integrated and easily-accessed Alta bike share network. The thing is, bike share is always priced to heavily discourage trips over an hour. The folks who borrow from Pedal Bike Tours and the other rental shops are keeping bikes longer than that. It's also pretty nice to have more than three gears on a bike you plan to hang on to all day.

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        • Jamie September 7, 2012 at 9:50 am

          Yes, we were in Montreal in the spring, and we used the Bixi as well as a LBS for bike rentals. The Bixi bikes were too big and clunky for extended day trips. Without the bike share (and the bike infrastructure) we wouldn't have picked Montreal as a destination in the first place.

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  • Alexis September 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Nice that TriMet is already on-message about this. For once I appreciate their PR people!

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  • Joe Adamski September 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    One needs to remember there is an election a few months away, the support for bike sharing might be a casualty of a new council I do not know where everybody lines up on this, but the golden rule for council is 'count to three'. A coalition of three supporters or three opponents may seal its fate, depending on how much a 'hot topic' bike sharing becomes.

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  • Randall S. September 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    What's wrong with bicycle-riding taking people away from transit? Mass transit is definitely more efficient that SOVs, but it's still a petrol-powered vehicle that doesn't involve any physical activity.

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  • RonMH September 6, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I'm really torn about this whole bike share stuff. One the one hand, it could be great for a few who don't already have bikes or visitors to Portland. But, on the other hand, the problems with bike share programs elsewhere (theft and vandalization of the bikes themselves, and even sketchy economics of bike share programs) could easily turn into a PR nightmare for both the mayor and bike advocates in general. We are already in the sights of conservative budget hawks over public spending on bike infrastructure. A very public and costly failure (or even the perception of failure) could be a big setback for the cycling community. At the end of the day we have to really ask why we NEED a bike share program. Are there really thousands of bike-starved citizens out there who can't buy their own set of wheels? Maybe I just don't get the whole point of this exercise.

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    • Jacob September 6, 2012 at 11:43 pm

      None of the North American systems have had problems with theft or vandalism. As for sketchy economics, the system in NYC is slated to make a profit, as are the ones in LA and Long Beach. DC's system loses money, but that appears to be because they don't allow advertising yet.

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      • RonMH September 6, 2012 at 11:54 pm

        I stand corrected.
        Now, for the question: "why? Who would use such a system in an already bike-mad town?"

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      • Robert Ping September 7, 2012 at 8:51 am

        Jacob, the DC bikeshare system became solvent this year (already).

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  • Indy September 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    "People who walk or bike more end up riding transit more."

    As I bike and walk more my use of transit has dwindled more and more. Anecdotal, and all, but I find this attitude somewhat insane. It is exactly because of less service + more $$$ to ride tri-met that I've gotten into biking as a primary mode of commuting.

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  • Rol September 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    For how innocuous and straightforward (to the point of being kind-of-like, uninteresting) the bike share concept is, it sure does draw a lot of attention. (Thinking mainly of NYC, but this goes in the same file.) But I suppose that's true of bicycling in general.

    I just realized, probably people who view it as a "playing field" get nervous when they see the previously small & outnumbered "other team" offering new recruits such easy access to "athletic shoes."

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  • dwainedibbly September 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Let's face it: it's going to be late, probably by 6 months (my uneducated guess), and once you get that far into 2013, why not wait for Spring 2014?

    The bike rental businesses are going to have to examine the rates and membership requirements of whatever bikeshare system we get. There should be opportunities for them, especially with the tourist market. Add value! The problem for these businesses is that the rates & requirements are unknown until a vendor is selected, etc, etc.

    I want Alta to get the contract because they're local, and I'm grateful for all Mia Burke has done for Portland, but Alta haven't been doing much to counteract the impression that the fix is in and the bidding doesn't really matter.

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  • Ross Williams September 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    The reason cycling raises transit use is that it allows the range of transit to be extended well beyond the usual quarter mile beyond stops. That's why you see bike racks on buses and trains.

    In terms of bike sharing, there is the same effect. The ability to get around without a motor vehicle allows people to use transit when they would otherwise drive.

    I agree bike sharing will only impact short term rentals. But it may be that some of the bike rental places make money from those. Its clear bike sharing will better meet the needs of that market.

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    • Indy September 7, 2012 at 5:47 am

      Yeah but I see two bike racks on a bus that holds ~80 passengers.

      And trains are packed during rush hour and can't fit bikes. It obviously isn't feasible to have many commuters that ride mass transit also use bikes. Also doesn't make much sense. If you are within 5-10 miles of your commute, bussing+biking can frequently be slower than just biking.

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  • Bjorn September 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    The oregonian doesn't have a great track record on this stuff, they were also vehemently opposed to the Eastbank Esplanade.

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    • Gregg September 6, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      And they endorsed Bush, and the CRC...

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  • Todd September 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    For the record, I also said I'm hopeful that bike share will also create more interest in biking and bring more people to our tours, long term rentals, and higher end bikes than it takes away. That just didn't make it into the story.

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    • Spiffy September 6, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      Todd
      That just didn't make it into the story.

      they need to edit for maximum drama to draw readers...

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      • sabes September 6, 2012 at 10:58 pm

        Just like the commenters on this blog...

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        • GDorn September 7, 2012 at 9:25 am

          Most of the commenters don't have journalism degrees, nor do they call themselves journalists.

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  • liquid silk September 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    "People who walk or bike more end up riding transit more" definitely isn't true for me. I used to be a monthly bus pass user for several years until 2008. At that time I was fed up with increased fares and decreased service and so I picked up a better bike and started riding everywhere. Since 2008, I can count the number of times I've used a Trimet bus on one hand, and the number of times I've used backs on two hands.

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  • liquid silk September 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    that I've used MAX* on two hands.

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  • JJJ September 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    At this point, Id expect, at best, a June launch from B-cycle.

    If Alta is chosen, you can pencil in 2014.

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  • Spiffy September 6, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I'm skeptical of TriMet's endorsement seeing that they haven't increased bus bicycle capacity and have taken away MAX bicycle capacity...

    also, the reduction in service to some lines means it's now faster for some of those people to bypass the bus completely in favor of a bike (or car)...

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  • Spiffy September 6, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I think the local shops will be fine... they have a wider selection and family friendly options... those are major attractions for tourists... also, Kerr Bikes has those pedal cars and no bike-share rents those types...

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  • Kiel Johnson September 6, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I have a bike rental service at Go By Bike. Even if I lose 20-30 percent of my business I won't really mind. I'm in this business because I want more people to ride bikes and bike share will do that. Portland is planning on increasing the number of people that ride bikes to 25% in 28 years. That will surely positively effect my business. Stop complaining, adapt, and stop letting the Oregonian take such sour pictures of yourself.

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    • todd September 6, 2012 at 9:41 pm

      Damn dude, nice slam. great to meet you too. thats probably the best photo ever taken of me.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 7, 2012 at 9:16 am

        Hey todd,

        I know Kiel. He's a nice guy, so I hope you take his comment to hard. I'm sure it just didn't come out right... Am I right Kiel? (it sounded kind of mean to me too)

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        • Todd Roll September 7, 2012 at 10:34 am

          Honestly Jonathan I try to never read the comments and god forbid be dumb enough to make one. Too many take it as a license to let their most cowardly attacks shine.

          Last month I took a beating online for spending my own money putting up a sign celebrating for all the world to see FOREVER our status as AMERICA'S BICYCLE CAPITAL. ("OMG there are CARS in the picture!" "That wall is so ugly!" "Moab is way friendlier!" "That's not a mural, it's an ugly sign!" "Why isn't it nicer?!")

          Now I get beat up for wanting to have a successful business showing people from all over the world how fun it is to explore by bike, feed my family and provide jobs in this community because our city wants to allow large companies, possibly from out of state (like B Cycle and whoever provides the capital like possibly Citibank who funded New York's program) to run a bike share program here. Will the employees I have to lay off get jobs with Portland Bike Share? Not if it's an admin job in Chicago.

          I love the idea of bikeshare and am excited to see it come to Portland. My 10 employees and I want to continue to earn a living doing what we love. I will fight like hell to not lose that and I am concerned about the future. Of course we will adapt. Adapting is what Pedal Bike Tours does best.

          Anyone who wants to lecture me on my desire to stay in business and how best to do so is welcome to come to our shop and say it to my face, we're open 9-6 every day.

          I say drop the comments section and invite anyone with the balls to meet up once a month to discuss your posts and call each other names in person. I'd be interested to see who shows. Me, I'll be hanging out with the photographer from the Oregonian, working on my smile.

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  • Jacob September 7, 2012 at 12:01 am

    Bike share and bike rentals are two completely different markets. If you want to go on a recreational bike ride, or want to bike outside the urban core, you rent a bike from a bike shop. If you're looking for a cheap means of transportation within the urban core, you go with bike share. With prices starting at $25 per day, bike rental shops aren't really targeting the cheap urban transportation market at present, so I doubt they'll lose much money. The experience in DC shows that local bike shops saw a boom in business after bike share, as many people began biking with bike share, and then decided to buy their own bike.
    http://wamu.org/programs/metro_connection/12/06/29/from_a_to_b_bike_shop_owners_see_big_returns_from_capital_bikeshare

    Also, bike share works extremely well with transit, extending its reach. This is especially true for people commuting into the city core from beyond comfortable bike commuting distances. Bringing a bike on MAX or a bus is cumbersome, and leaving an extra bike in the city's core requires a lot of planning and is subject to theft. If MAX doesn't quite get you there, many people from outer areas will simply drive, whereas with bikeshare, it's much easier to realize that a destination is within, say, 1 mile of a MAX station. It makes chaining transit with biking so much easier.

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    • jeff September 7, 2012 at 10:38 am

      Help me understand this. Wouldn't there have to be a docking station both at the transit stop and at the workplace or other final destination? Is that level of saturation at ultimate destinations feasible?

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      • Jacob September 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm

        Every city with bikeshare does some sort of rebalancing, where bikes are redistributed throughout the system. This way, bike stations are kept from becoming completely full or empty. Obviously, it's not a perfect system, but it helps.

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  • jeff September 7, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I am ambivalent about bike share systems and wonder if they are worth the very large initial investment. I see three main problems with bike share, all of which I experienced during a recent trip to Denver, where I did use their system.
    1. Not familiar with the area and easy to get lost. Most people don't have a photographic memory for maps.
    2. Not sure where to ride to avoid high-traffic streets (see number 1) and felt unsecure in traffic without a rear view mirror (which I have on both of my regular bikes).
    3. No helmets.

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