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Mia Birk, Alta Bicycle Share face scrutiny over labor practices, Citibike hiccups

Posted by on June 11th, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Behind the scenes at Capital Bikeshare-30-2
A Capital Bikeshare employee “rebalances” bikes
at a docking site near Union Station. Some past and
current employees claim they’ve been underpaid
by Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been a rough few weeks for Alta Bicycle Share VP Mia Birk. The roll-out of the massive and high-profile Citibike system has by many measures been a huge success. But it has also been marred by public allegations of illegal labor practices in Washington D.C. and software glitches and poor customer service in New York City. This bad PR isn’t new for Alta as they’ve come under fire in the past for delayed launches and last year a rival company accused them of unfair conduct while competing for a bikeshare contract in Chicago.

In Washington D.C., a former employee of Alta’s Capital Bikeshare says he was underpaid and not given the health benefits he’s due under federal contract law. Alta operates the Capital Bikeshare under contract with D.C.’s Department of Transportation. Here’s an excerpt from a Washington Post story on May 6th:

Former employee Samuel Swen­son has told the U.S. Labor Department that he was paid $13 hourly for work that should have been subject to the federal “bicycle repairer” rate of $14.43 hourly or “truck driver, light” at $15.66 hourly. Before he left Capital Bikeshare, Swenson said, he received a raise to $15 hourly but was not paid fringe benefits required under federal law.

Capital Bikeshare, a subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share of Portland, Ore., operates the system under a 2010 contract with the District’s Transportation Department worth up to $16.4 million over five years. The contract specifies that Capital Bikeshare must follow federal “prevailing wage” determinations, which are published regularly by the Labor Department.

Then on May 28th, Swenson and 17 other current and former Capital Bikeshare employees went public with claims they were owed back-pay and benefits. The group wrote a letter on an online petition site that called out Mia Birk specifically:

Mia Birk -2
Birk in September 2011 after signing
the New York City contract.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Dear Mia,

We are the mechanics, drivers, technicians, dispatchers, and office workers who helped build Capital Bikeshare and set the standard for bikesharing programs nationwide. We’re writing to ask you to do the right thing: comply with the Service Contract Act and pay us all the wages and health & welfare benefits that you committed to pay in Alta’s contract with the Washington DC Department of Transportation (DDOT)…

Mia, it’s time for Alta Bicycle Share to play fair and set an example as a leader in good green jobs…

The U.S. Department of Labor is now looking into the issue and they’ve requested information from Alta about the allegations. Asked for comment on the issue, Birk shared the following via email today:

We are working hard to resolve the prevailing wage question for our Capital Bike Share workers. As such we are providing the requested information to the Department of Labor and also completing an internal review. This is a very important issue to us, and we want to handle it right. As we are a very young company at the forefront of a new industry, we are learning as we go.

We fully value our work force and are proud of our success – in partnership with the District of Columbia – in launching and operating a world-class bike share system with more than 4 million miles logged to date.

When I am able to share the results and actions, I will do so.

You can learn more about the workers’ issues on their Tumblr site and via the Greater Greater Washington blog.

Adding to Alta’s plate is a New York Times story published today about hiccups in the Citibike system. Despite the huge popularity of the system, in Two Weeks In, Riders and Errors for Bike-Share Effort, the Times reports on how New York is handling “the rash of problems plaguing its system, which has had technical errors of a magnitude never experienced by bike-share programs in other major American cities.” The article details problems with docking stations that won’t accept bikes and then long waits (45 minutes or more) for users who call customer service to complain.

It’s important to recall that the launch of Citibike was delayed because the new software Alta’s partner company created specifically for the New York system wasn’t ready for prime-time. Hurricane Sandy damaged some of the bikes, which also contributed to the delay. Alta has since sued their insurance company over the losses.

All of this is happening while Citibike continues to make national headlines — including a now famous rant by a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and a feature on The Daily Show with John Stewart.

Yesterday, Sustainable Business Oregon reported that Birk is taking all the heat in stride and that she continues to work on launching new systems in Portland and Seattle.

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  • BURR June 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Not to mention alleged improprieties by Alta in the selection process for the Chicago bike share program:

    http://www.suntimes.com/11341996-417/rival-citys-bike-sharing-program-tainted.html

    http://www.chicagonow.com/easy-as-riding-a-bike/2012/03/controversy-surrounds-bike-share-selection/

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    • longgone June 11, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      “The city’s only response to the protests so far is a stumper:”..
      That’s kind funny.

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  • Jambo June 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    I know everyone loves Mia Birk as some great cycling advocate, but in my personal experience with her she is mostly an advocate for Mia Birk and Alta. It started the first time I met her. She came to the bike shop I was working at, and when I tried to introduce myself like a normal person she walked right past me and started complaining that her book wasn’t properly presented on the shelves. The only words she said to anyone in the shop were about how we should be selling her book. That’s the Mia Birk I see when I read stories about Alta. Just look through all of the stories about her on this site- she presents everything as cycling advocacy, but if you look closer they are all about Alta getting contracts and getting more business. I understand she is a businesswoman trying to succeed like everyone else, but I feel like she is disingenuous with her motives and most people support her no matter what because they want to support cycling.

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    • anon1q2w3e4r5t June 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Thank you for confirming the gut feeling I’ve had of her true nature, just milking her bicycle advocacy work for all its worth, and just smiling along the way. This gives me more motivation to end this bike sharing nonsense.

      Also, just look at the business structure of Alta Bike Share. The manufacturing of the bike sharing equipment is all outsourced. This tells me that they want to avoid doing all the hard work so that they can just focus on profits!!! Is this the type of person/company you want in the livable city/streets community?

      NO TO BIKE SHARING, YES FOR REAL BICYCLISTS!

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      • BIKELEPTIC June 13, 2013 at 2:37 am

        in reply to your NO BIKE SHARING/YAY CYCLISTS

        I kinda think it would be much more worth the space and money to put in bike parking like they have in Japan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcZSU40RBrg And maybe a portion of them be bike share and a portion of the slots be for regular bikes. That way everyone wins. I just see this not lasting very long. But I do think that as someone that will never, ever use a bike share in my life – I would utilize this system often if it were made available – in fact, I would buy a pass, similar to a monthly trimet pass just for the convenience of having it available when I go downtown or to Lloyd Center, etc. I’m really tired of locking up my bike to STOP signs and poles and hunting down places where there is no bike infrastructure as cars line the streets.

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    • Getoverit June 13, 2013 at 10:49 am

      I have the same experiences every time I see her. I was once at a Railvolution conference here in Portland and ALTA was doing a presentation on bikes and streetcar. Before it started Mia, unashamedly, took time to promote her book. If I remember correctly they were selling them in the back of the room. During questions at the end a woman asked a question and Mia’s curt response was that the answer was in her book (FAIL). In other words “buy my book”. It clearly upset the woman asking the question and she said she didn’t want to read the book but just wanted a simple answer. I was basically a fly on the wall during this but the whole promotion of Mia and the book embarrassed me. It seemed really awkward for everyone in the room except Mia. People pay a lot of money to go to these conferences and expect to learn something new and not have to listen to sales pitches in a session. There are more appropriate places to sell things. But, thats the Mia Birk I know.

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  • Joe Rowe June 11, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Related topic: Mia Birk is also PRO CRC Freeway. That’s 1.6 Billion for interchanges we don’t need.

    She’s got the inside track to office holders, and that’s how she gets the contracts.

    Read her book. She’s smug and talks in detail about her good freind Mr. Rex Burkholder who fast tracked the CRC freeway. Mia knows how to work the top end of politics and play the bid process in a way that destroys a chance for smaller businesses.

    Do we want a elite people writing books as if they alone know and trickle down the future of transportation? Do we want a few rich, elite, and connected people making the profits from bike share programs?

    No, no, no Mia. Yes to fair open bids. Yes to local, smaller, worker owned businesses who might be able to setup bike share/rentals much better. We don’t know as that process seems ripe with corruption.

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    • Chainwhipped June 12, 2013 at 9:57 am

      It sounds like Mia Birk may be fairly useless in her current position, but it’s important to remember that there are other people involved with Alta. It’s unfortunate that their base-level workers are not being compensated as promised and that obviously needs to change. Fire Birk and replace her with management that will uphold Alta’s obligations to its employees.

      Alta’s internal problem doesn’t necessarily mean that Alta shouldn’t be getting the contracts. After all, their bike-share system is proving to be effective in multiple cities. The people working those jobs probably want to keep them. Alta will bring jobs to Portland when our bike share system is in place and that is a good thing.

      Actually, because they are being put under a microscope now, they’ll have to have their act together by that time Portland’s bike share launches. This is a very good development as it may push the wage and compensation of Portland’s bike industry employees up a notch (ask around, there ain’t many of us making $14+ per hour, and benefits are less than common). What experienced mechanic would keep a job at $10 per hour if they can start at Alta for $13.50?

      Apart from the labor issue, we also need to remember that a bike share network is an enormous undertaking. It’s not just a matter of getting things “set up”.

      The bikes are not what you see at your LBS. The equipment required for bike sharing on this large of scale is very different from normal bike rentals. The bikes need to be built with parts that are as incompatible as possible with bicycles built with more common industry standards (making them worthless if stolen). They also have to be extremely reliable AND useable for any novice, whether they’re 5′ 0″ or 6′ 6″.

      This requires a dedicated factory capable of producing vast quantities of proprietary parts that don’t exist elsewhere. Depending on your definition of “small business”, I suppose a factory capable of such mass quantities could be considered “small” – but it’s something that bike shops cannot offer, if that’s what we’re talking about.

      We need Alta or somebody like them, but we need them to behave.

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    • zuckerdog June 12, 2013 at 10:24 am

      For what it is worth, I would consider Alta a local and relatively small business.

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      • Dabby June 12, 2013 at 11:55 am

        500 employees…

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        • Dabby June 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

          sorry hit wrong button didn’t mean to type that…wish I could delete my typo comments?

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    • anon1q2w3e4r5t June 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      No I don’t! This actually has been on my mind for a few years now and I hope to be doing something about it in the future.

      NO TO BIKE SHARING, YES FOR REAL BICYCLISTS!

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      • Art fuldodger June 12, 2013 at 9:43 pm

        Dare I ask… What’s a “real bicyclist”?

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        • anon1q2w3e4r5t June 13, 2013 at 8:53 am

          Long-term bicyclist, a bicyclist who wants better bicycle infrastructure that allows them to user their own bikes.

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          • Chainwhipped June 13, 2013 at 10:15 am

            That’s a very good definition. And not the least bit contrived or exclusionary. I’m sure that if we all ban together as “real cyclists” and demand that everyone ride and appreciate bicycle use “our war or no way” we won’t be perceived as a privileged class trying to take more for itself.

            Now that we have our battle cry of “Shame On You For Being Casual!”, What other genius marketing strategies do you have to offer?

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  • Tom Moore June 11, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Aggregating all these news pieces into one story is very useful- thanks for taking the time to do this. It will be very interesting to see if Alta can handle and appropriately respond to all this attention and pressure.

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  • was carless June 11, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    What on earth is a “federal “bicycle repairer””??

    Sounds like government getting in our business! And $14.31 minimum wage for it? Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour!

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    • Tito June 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      The federal government has wage levels for every type of job. Those wages are what they pay, and what those with federal contracts must pay. Dont like it, dont bid on a federal job.

      Also, Id bet chicago and/or sf will be delayed. The citibike failures arent isolated incidents.

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    • are June 11, 2013 at 8:13 pm
    • longgone June 12, 2013 at 8:46 am

      @ was carless..
      Do you think your local bike mechanic can live on $7.25 an hour?
      Am I misunderstanding your objection here?
      The last time I enjoyed median comfort on $7.25 an hour was 1981.

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    • Bob from SF June 13, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      Here is a video on their program in Washington. Alta made millions. Shouldn’t workers be paid fairly?

      http://youtu.be/8rDFBtnotUU

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  • Adam June 11, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    I have a good friend who works at the City, and have heard through him that when Alta were subcontracted a few years back by PBOT to run elements of their Safe Routes to Schools projects, it was a DISASTER. Alta didn’t seem to have much of a clue what they were doing, and PBOT had to go over their finance figures multiple times. Don’t know the specifics, but I heard a lot of rumors.

    From what I understand, Alta does some things very well – ie planning for bike routes. But anything else, it is really just beyond their current capacity, and they are over-extending themselves without really training their staff to cope.

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  • Josephine Schumpeter June 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Is the technology at risk of being outdated?

    http://inventropolis.com/bikeshares-technological-shift/

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  • Mike June 12, 2013 at 8:23 am

    How does this company still keep getting business when it is apparent that it isn’t capable of performing the tasks that it promises. Are her shortcomings being overlooked by some because the prospect of bike share clouds judgement? Where is the competition?

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  • John R. June 12, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Mia beloved in this city? Really? She has done many good things, but her book is part fiction. It would seem that her company is as well.

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    • Granpa June 12, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Oh Snap!

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  • Garlynn June 12, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Alta isn’t even necessarily all that good at bicycle planning. They did a horrible job on the 2001 bicycle plan in the Bay Area; others essentially had to step in to finish the job for them because they could not, and they were not asked back to complete the 2004 update to that plan.

    Also, don’t I recall them screwing up something very simple and integral related to that bicycle/pedestrian over-crossing of I-5 leading to the South Waterfront….?

    Not to throw mud at Alta, but in my experience they don’t finish the job to the high degree of quality that one would expect from a leader in a field. This bike-sharing debacle confirms my fears that they might have the same issues when it comes to operations that they do with planning.

    Portland should definitely make sure it has a contractual “out”, should things look like they are going south with Alta regarding their contract for bike-sharing here.

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  • pdxpaul June 12, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I’m always baffled at how executives can’t seem to understand how easy it is to make decisions regarding compliance issues. If someone deserves a certain wage, stop hemming and hawing and make the change. It’s as easy as saying, “I see your point and believe you are correct. And since my business model isn’t sustainable with what I leech off the top, I’ll go ahead and lower my obscene salary to something reasonable so we can afford to pay the people who do real work.” Win-win.

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  • Jessica Roberts June 12, 2013 at 11:34 am

    I hesitate to wade into the fray, since this comments crowd is pretty critical, but here goes. I have worked for Mia for nearly 7 years. I’m pretty picky about my bosses (having worked for Catherine Ciarlo in the past), and I know Mia to be hardworking, dedicated, and visionary; every project she undertakes is in service of the larger cause. She makes mistakes, as everyone does, and anyone who’s worked with her knows that she is ambitious and moves at the speed of light, which has its up and downsides. But it seems like some of these commenters are painting her as greedy, incompetent, or having bad intentions, which just doesn’t jive with my many years of working for and with her. I can only offer one person’s opinion, but I wouldn’t still work at Alta if I didn’t feel that Mia were someone I respected.

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  • Mia Birk June 12, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Thanks to all of the supportive comments.

    I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish at both Alta Planning + Design and Alta Bicycle Share, despite the many challenges we have faced, from bureaucratic delays to our supplier’s software issues to Hurricane Sandy and more. We are not perfect; we are a small company, learning as we go, and we carry on because we are 100% dedicated to our mission: creating active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun, and normal daily activities.

    Those of you who know me personally know that my dedication to the mission is at my core and drives my every day.

    We are at the forefront of a new industry and have created more than 500 jobs. 100% of the proceeds from my book Joyride have gone back into the mission in the form of donations. In NYC, we have already seen CitiBike users travel to the moon and back in number of miles travelled. In DC, Capital Bike Share users have travelled more than 4 million miles.

    Thanks to our whole dedicated, smart, hard-working team, we are transforming communities one pedal stroke at a time. For that, I am grateful.

    Mia Birk

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    • Tito June 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      Mia, if you are a small company, learning as you go….THEN DON’T BID ON THE BIGGEST CONTRACTS IN THE COUNTRY! And then you keep piling them on one after an other.

      You were a year late in Boston, you were a year late in NYC….so you bid for Chicago where youre a year late, and then SF….etc etc

      Same thing over and over again. Your company has not once launched on time and with the promised size. Not once.

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      • Chris I June 13, 2013 at 9:49 am

        And yet people still buy their product… apparently they know something you don’t? I suspect it is due to the limited options in this market. The customers only have a few choices, and the apparently having a superior product is more important than delivering on time.

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        • BURR June 13, 2013 at 11:12 am

          What do you mean ‘people still buy their product’? That’s disingenuous, seeing as how once a bidder/proposal is selected, the winner essentially has a monopoly on the local market.

          Knowing a little something about the public contracting process, I would say they are getting these jobs for several reasons: (1) who they know/schmooze in the local government, (2) how much time and effort they put into their proposal, and how the proposal itself (not the finished product) stacks up against the other proposals received, (3) not all that much competition or other companies with experience in the field, and (4) maybe on cost.

          There are at least two caveats on cost, however: (1) if they are participating in an RFP process rather than a low-bid process, the lowest cost proposal is not the automatic winner, and (2) projects like this are often initially underfunded based on the proposed costs, and then budgets are increased later with change orders as necessary for completion.

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        • bcyclebetter June 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm

          What is their product?
          What do they bring to the table?
          - They fire the software developer (the brains)
          - They threaten to sue Bixi (the equipment)
          - They fire the woman who got the jobs (the talent)

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    • Chainwhipped June 13, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Mia, plenty of people recognize how important it is that somebody is doing your job. It has to be done ethically and that’s where you appear to fall short, so spare us the P.R. rhetoric.

      500 jobs are too important for you and Alta to risk the future of the company by mistreating its employees. This is counterproductive in so many ways.

      Bike share is important. We need it here in Portland. It would be nice if it was run by a local company like Alta. It would be better if it was run by somebody who values the services of the expert hands at the ground level who are doing the actual work, “one pedal stroke at a time”. If that isn’t Alta, we’ll get someone else.

      Open the corporate wallet and keep your word, Mia. This “new industry” cannot be built on broken promises.

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      • anon1q2w3e4r5t June 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

        Bike sharing is NOT important, and you definitely don’t need it in Portland. Resources should be focused on projects like the ones mentioned in today’s posts such as the Cultural Trail and “center median bike lane”.

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        • My Magic Hat June 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm

          You’re sure that telling everyone to “f&&& off” is the best way to get them on your side?

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          • anon1q2w3e4r5t June 13, 2013 at 11:57 pm

            Be more specific, who’s everyone? And, how does my comment tell them to “f&&& off”?

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  • Dabby June 12, 2013 at 11:48 am

    As a person who realizes Portland is not ready for and should not implement Bike Share, this is interesting news.
    (Bike Share; A clever way to disguise/rebrand a rental service?)

    I certainly hope it causes those who should to take another solid look at
    the realities of having it in Portland.

    Just the thought of encouraging tourists onto our unsafe streets on heavy, ungainly, lower quality bicycles plastered with advertising is enough to give me a migraine.

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    • davemess June 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      Have you ever used bikeshare? You do know it’s not being marketed exclusively to tourists right?

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      • Dabby June 13, 2013 at 11:43 am

        Of course Dave. I chose to use tourists to make my point, as I see them as the most vulnerable user group. I mean I actually SEE them on the streets as the most vulnerable user group.

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    • Sunny June 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      Tourist are only a small share of Bike Share usage. The vast majority are business people getting from point A to B in the city core where it would have taken a long slog in a car, foot or public transit.

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    • Bill Walters June 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      They’re actually pretty high-quality; it’s just that they’re *massive*. But my tall 9-year-old (at the time) was able to wrangle one with little incident on the National Mall.

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  • samuel swenson June 12, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Here’s exactly what I was referring to in the latest post on our website.

    From Mia’s response above “We are working hard to resolve the prevailing wage question for our Capital Bike Share workers…” Note there is no mention of the “health & welfare benefit” that is at the center of our complaint. And is very clearly written into the contract. That’s $3.59/hour on top of the prevailing wage.

    “Snake hole #2 is a simple matter of exploiting public assumptions in order to slide out of most of the responsibility. When folks hear about back pay, they only think about wages. What kind of outlandish contract would guarantee “health and welfare benefits” to hourly workers?”
    …read on at bikeworkers.tumblr.com

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  • rwl1776 June 12, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Wow, did they learn their project management skills from United Streetcar?

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  • anon1q2w3e4r5t June 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    The labor dispute has been going on for a while behind the scenes, read this comment made 2+ years ago by a person who claims to have worked for Capital Bike Share…..

    http://disqus.com/cnn-83cf98e89d79236b6be75b9288/

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  • Jm Lee June 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Mia, pride is the fundamental sin.

    Read Dante.

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    • longgone June 12, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      Or dont…

      Dante’s monsters are both predictable in the sense that they somewhat mirror Virgilian episodes and somewhat unpredictable in the Christian ethos that the poet creates specifically for each. As Jewiss noted:

      “The most obvious place to look for monsters in the medieval world is hell, the dark margins of God’s creation, a space retrieved from Classical antiquity and transformed into the Christian repository for evil. Within a Christian framework, sin must be coupled metaphorically with the monstrous, for transgression is that which deforms and makes ugly.” (13)

      In this way, monsters fit Dante’s worldview and his theological intents to make Christian allegories of antiquity.

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  • Mamacita June 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    If the bike mechanics claims are true, then Alta will have a real credibility problem. When Wal-Mart fails to pay workers their contractual wages and benefits, we call it “wage theft.” Alta should not get a “free pass” on labor law violations (I note the DOL hasn’t decided the case yet).

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  • Babygorilla June 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Wow, I actually have some hope that citizens are concerned about the financial workings of our local government and its employment of “consultants” and awarding contracts to insiders.

    If you had a problem with Haliburton and its relationship with the Bush administration, you should really question the money doled out to the private sector by our local governments.

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  • Brad June 12, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    It appears that Alta has a difficult time working outside of Portland’s protective little cocoon. Gotta’ be tough doing business in places where fawning pols, bureaucrats, bloggers, and personal friends are not around to pave the road and/or run interference for you?

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  • Babygorilla June 12, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Mia Birk
    Thanks to all of the supportive comments.

    Uh, there was about one fully supportive comment amongst highly critical ones when you posted this and it was from a current Alta employee (coincidentally 10 minutes before your comment). I know it is probably not a good idea to directly respond to criticism contained in comments in a blog, but since you elected to respond, I’ll say it comes across as disingenuous and holier than thou when you say “thanks for all the supportive comments” and then go into PR mode.

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  • John Liu June 12, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Well, lest anyone get the sense that NYC Bikeshare is just a clusterf**k, I am here in NYC on business and thought, hmm, instead of walking 20 blocks each AM and PM from the hotel to my meetings, I’ll just ride. No sooner thought than done. Download the app, find the nearest station with bikes, swipe my card, take a bike, ride said smooth and comfortable bike, dock it at a station near my meeting, done, and repeat. It’s pretty great actually and NYC is an easy city to ride in, at least in Manhattan. The biggest problem was that the bike doesn’t take SPD cleats – naah, that’s silly.

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  • Lenny Anderson June 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Mia Birk put the bike lane paint on Portland’s streets 20 years ago when there were only a few of us braving those streets, and she is still pushing the envelope and showing more guts than most of us. My hat is off to her for taking chances, starting and growing a business with a vision that I certainly share, and getting the job done. Throwing anonymous darts on BikePortland is about the easiest thing in the world; getting shit done is a whole other story. Show some respect for those who do; its usually not pretty.

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    • Dave Thomson June 12, 2013 at 9:33 pm

      Well said Lenny.

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      • Jeff S June 12, 2013 at 11:11 pm

        Very well said, indeed. 20 years ago there were few of us on the streets, and fewer still pushing to change all that. Mia made it happen. full stop. If you don’t like the result, & want to revile her for her success in taking cycling into the mainstream, I’d ask you: how would you have done it better?

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        • BURR June 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm

          IMO it was more a question of right time, right place; anyone with even a modicum of the right skills could have stepped in and accomplished what Mia did at PBOT, because it was that bad before she arrived from Texas to ‘save’ us.

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    • JL June 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm

      Were those the bike lanes that are to the right of vehicle turn lanes?

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    • Nate June 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      Just because someone did something awesome 20 years ago (or yesterday for that matter) doesn’t give them the right to operate unethically. It seems as though Alta signed a contract agreeing to pay a certain wage rate (and yes, benefits too) and has since reneged on that contract.
      If true, besides being illegal, it is wrong, and Alta should remedy that. Remedy doesn’t mean lawyering up to squash the complaint, but paying back money owed and fixing it in the future. Full stop.

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    • FlyHalf June 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      Yes, and she got a ton of help to do it. She was also paid to do this, which is a really cool job that A LOT of people could have done, and would have love to do. Its not like she did something that innovative that she went out of her way to do. It was set up for anyone that has any kind of bike planning knowledge to do, and Mia was lucky enough to get the job to do it, with a lot of help and support from Blumenauer. Bottom line is that Mia is just overrated as a so called “bicycle queen.”

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  • Joe Adamski June 12, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Bikeshare was a vague concept 5 years ago, for the most part. Everybody is learning as they go.
    While I don’t embrace bikeshare for the reason it loses the egalitarian aspect of cycling.. you can’t ride one of these bikes without a credit card..I would be happy to be proven wrong. If it meets it goals, more folks will snag a bike rather than hail a taxi. More folks will have a more connected experience with their city. And a little exercise couldn’t hurt.
    Point being this is a works in progress, as well as a high stakes poker game. If you aren’t in the game, you are kibbitzing.

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    • longgone June 13, 2013 at 7:58 am

      .. a voice of reason, thank god.

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  • Babygorilla June 12, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Government services shouldn’t be a game.

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  • Jambo June 13, 2013 at 12:44 am

    There it is- “How dare you criticize Mia Birk??” Pushing the envelope and showing more guts? Wow, she was hired to complete a job (for millions of dollars) and she completed that job (sort of, and almost a year late).

    Again, you make it sound like she is doing all of this as a volunteer. She is getting PAID to do this, and it’s a lot more than $15/hr. She now has two companies that get paid millions of our tax dollars. If you want to give her credit for running a shrewd business, go ahead. Just stop buying into and promoting her BS that she’s some kind of devoted civil servant only interested in “transforming communities one pedal stroke at a time.” She’ll help transform your community… for a price.

    And maybe it would help if everything that came out of her mouth didn’t sound like it had been run through the PR department 10 times.

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  • FlyHalf June 13, 2013 at 3:29 am

    BabyGorilla is spot on. When Mia posted “thanks for all the supportive comments,” there was just one from one of her devoted colleagues that would support her no matter what because she wants to keep her kush job. Mia is the probably the most self centered person I have ever worked with and if she just put in half of the effort she is capable of to work with her colleagues then Alta would have much better respect. The reason why the firm does have the respect that is has is because there are actually not many firms in this country that specialize in bike planning and design. To add, Mia is not even a planner or a designer. She is a really good speaker and self promoter that has somehow gotten this godlike following from people that she actually knows how to plan for bike infrastructure when she really doesn’t. She has just gotten lucky to be in the right spot at the right time when Lenny Anderson above said she “put the bike paint on Portland’s streets.” Anyone could have done this that commutes by bike and has the practical knowledge. It wasn’t like it was an innovative idea she had or anything. She is just enormously overrated and Alta would probably be fine and even a much better company without her.

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    • longgone June 13, 2013 at 7:51 am

      “Anyone could have done this that commutes by bike and has the practical knowledge.”

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  • Lenny Anderson June 13, 2013 at 6:27 am

    Captitalism sucks, but its what we got! Of course she gets paid.

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    • John R. June 13, 2013 at 8:30 am

      Lenny, she gets paid very, very well. There is a disconnect between the public persona and the public performance.

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  • angrycitybiker June 13, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I think the concept of CitiBike NY is great, but the execution so far is a disaster. I don’t want to bike to the moon and back; I just want a system that works. When it works, it’s great; but of the six trips I took so far, five had some kind of issue with picking up or docking the bike. People report all kinds of problems: keys are mailed late, stations randomly stop working, web app shows stale data, riders are overcharged etc. The one thing I did see improve was the customer service response time: it went down from 10+ minutes a few days ago to 1-2 minutes now. That being said, something is wrong when you have to call customer service 5 times in a week.

    I don’t accept the “we are a small company, we are learning, these are just growing pains” excuse. They’ve had two years and are getting paid tens of millions of dollars to get this right. The system is so unreliable that it risks discrediting bike sharing in New York for a long time. What I find most infuriating is the complete lack of communication and accountability, both from Alta and from the city. I want to hear them say: “We messed up, but here is how we will fix it.” Over the past couple of days there has been increased media scrutiny, but I am not holding my breath.

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  • happymountain June 13, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Wonder if Citi Bank has the same technical flaws as Glitchi Bike.

    We like B-cycle in Denver. Wonder if New York regrets not choosing them.

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  • Al from PA June 13, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    While in London my wife and I used (or attempted to use) the Barclays (“Boris”) bikes several times. These are physically identical to the Citi bikes, though the software in the system is probably of the older variety.

    In several tries, we were foiled in different ways in our attempts to use the bike. I won’t go into the details–they were similar to the problems people are having in NYC–but suffice it to say that I concluded that bike share is great for the occasional recreational ride, if one can get it to work, but that depending on it in any given situation can lead to disaster. I would never dream of using these bikes for a regular commute. Bike share is no substitute for owning and using your own bike if you ride regularly, and if you have to be somewhere at a given time.

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  • RJ June 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I’m guessing that actual London commuters would disagree with you. Last time I was there I stayed near Waterloo Station. The 100+ docks in front of the station are full at 6am, and by 8am all the bikes are gone. Commuters are using them as a last mile solution rather than hopping a crowded tube or trying to figure out how to store and secure their own bike at the station AND at their ultimate destination. (Although a lot of people do this, too, judging from the number of secured bikes there are in the racks just east of the Cycle Hire stations.)

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  • Bob from SF June 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Reading thru I see three important new terms:

    1. Mini-Halliburton (Alta when doing public sector work)
    2. Glitchi Bike (Citi Bike)
    3. Walmart Bike (the way Alta pays its workers)

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  • Sunny June 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Trimet ticket machines are notorious for being broken too.

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  • Video from CBS News in NYC June 14, 2013 at 10:26 am
  • roger noehren June 14, 2013 at 12:33 pm
  • gogiants June 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Is San Francisco using this same system?

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  • BikeSeattle June 14, 2013 at 6:57 pm
  • Joe Adamski June 14, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    The phrase ‘circular firing squad’ comes to mind.
    I wonder how many critics recall the history of Mia and the City of Portland and cycling? Prior to being named the first ‘Bike Czar’ of Portland, we were just like every other city. Mia started us down the first steps, a mix of publicity hound, zealot, schmoozer and wonk. This was a mere 20 years ago and it started a shift in transportation thinking. Thousands have had their fingerprints in the process , Mia was among the first. And after 7 or 8 years, she moved on to Alta.
    Cycling needs friends at all levels and incomes.Friends at the bar and the jobsite and the boardroom.
    My only contact with Mia was on the Bicycle Master Plan 2030 steering committee. Mia was a strong advocate for the inclusion of trails as a ‘tier one’ component of the Plan..not relegated to the 20 year ‘vision’ third tier status they were headed to. I know Mia was calling,emailing,bugging and badgering to insure at least one signature trail made the tier one cut.
    In my estimation, Mia has exhibited a lot of drive and tenacity. She has succeeded in things that most of us never get past the dream stage on. And yeah, she has bolloxed up a thing or two, but no worse than I have, just on a larger scale. Because I’m sitting home and ranting on BP, and she is actually out there doing it.
    Cycling has its share of adversaries. Lets not beat up on one of our own.

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    • John R. June 17, 2013 at 7:40 am

      Actually, no she didn’t. Activists started us down that path. They paved the way for her position.

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  • Rob Chapman June 16, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I don’t care whether its Sarah Palin, Choo Choo Charlie or Mia Burke, I can’t trust anybody who leverages their government position into obscenely high paying private sector jobs on the taxpayer tit.
    You threw some paint on the ground a couple of decades ago? Great. What have you accomplished on time and under budget lately?
    I’ve heard Mrs. Burke’s behavior described as a 15 year victory lap, sounds about right. When Alta’s stuff lives up to its fluff then perhaps I’ll change my mind.

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  • Reason June 16, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Agree with Rob. Even more, this looks like a fleecing of the taxpayer. Washington DC, Chicago and San Francisco are spending outrageous taxpayer monies. Way beyond anything spent in Europe. Where is that extra money going? Mini-Halliburton is right.

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  • HagenHammons June 16, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    If AltaBikeShare gets its glitches fixed, there is no question that NY will benefit tremendously from bike share. Just need patience. I see a congestion charge similar to London’s happening soon getting into Manhattan, and along with the added bike infrastructure, it will increase the need for an inexpensive, efficient form of transport.

    Not sold on a Portland Bike Share program though. Not a big enough market, and residents already have bikes. Would it be catered to tourism? or quick downtown/inner SE/Lloyd area trips?

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  • Dallas Adams November 15, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Being in SF I am watching and reading a lot about ALTA…
    I fear them more than an Earthquake.

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