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3 lessons for Portland as Citi Bike struggles to break even

Thursday, March 27th, 2014
Citi Bike Launch
Citi Bike's launch last summer.
(Photo: NYCDOT)

A Wall Street Journal report last week that New York City's wildly popular bike share system has been operating in the red has, understandably, rattled the Portland transportation world as we wait for a similar system here.

I'll start by rounding up the burst of media coverage, then offer some quick analysis.

The Journal report last Thursday, which we linked to in this week's Monday Roundup, kicked things off. An Oregonian news roundup followed focused the blame on Alta, the Portland-based company that manages Citi Bike and has the contract for Portland's future system. A follow-up editorial from the Oregonian called on the city to scrap its plan and put the money to other bike projects, seemingly misreading a recent bike sharing study to draw the conclusion that a Portland system is "almost certain to require a hefty annual operating subsidy from Portland taxpayers."

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Alta Bicycle Share teams up with former PBSC tech provider

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

In a big move that will impact bike sharing in the United States and beyond, Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share has announced a new "strategic partnership" with 8D Technologies.

8D is the company that formerly worked closely with the Public Bicycle System Company (PBSC, a.k.a. Bixi), the Montreal based company that filed for bankruptcy late last month. Alta uses the PBSC platform in the many bike share systems they operate and manage around the country and some of those systems (in Boston and Washington D.C.) are operated with software developed by 8D Technologies.

But the relationship between 8D and PBSC soured when PBSC began to export their successful Bixi system to the U.S. while allegedly secretly developing their own software and cutting 8D out of the picture. In April 2012 8D sued PBSC for breach of contract. (more...)

Key supplier to Portland's bike share vendor files for bankruptcy (updated)

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
City of Portland bike sharing demonstration-16
Montreal-based Public Bicycle System Company (PBSC), the makers of the Bixi bike share system that has been deployed throughout North America and a key supplier of equipment and technology for Portland bike share, has filed for bankruptcy.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

More big — and bad — news from Montreal's Public Bicycle System Company (PBSC, a.k.a. Bixi) was announced yesterday. The company that supplies the hardware and software for America's largest bike share systems has filed for bankruptcy protection to help restructure $38 million in debt.

In other words, in order to continue operating, the company has been granted the right to ignore some of its debts and negotiate with its creditors on any other available ways to compensate them. Though this doesn't seem likely to directly affect Portland's coming bicycle share system launch (and may actually improve things, since a bankruptcy-protected Bixi could be more financially stable) it is big news within the fast-growing bike sharing industry.

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10 key details from Portland's bike share proposal and contract

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
A rendering by Alta Bicycle Share of a future Portland
bike share station at downtown's Director Park.

As public bike share systems continue to become standard public services in cities around the country, we figured it was time to learn more about what's in store for Portland.
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Where should Portland's bikeshare stations go? Ten maps that might help

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
Portland's draft plan for locations of the first bikeshare stations, shared online by KATU.com. Possible phase-two expansion locations are purple, and eventual expansion areas in blue. (Click to enlarge)

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"Mistakes" aside, city says Alta's labor issues won't affect Portland Bike Share

Thursday, July 11th, 2013
Behind the scenes at Capital Bikeshare-14-2
Mechanics at Capital Bikeshare
headquarters in Washington D.C.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Alta Bicycle Share Vice President Mia Birk acknowledged Wednesday that "we definitely make mistakes," but that her fast-growing company is learning from its possible violation of federal labor rules and taking steps to avoid future wage issues.

Meanwhile, Portland city lawyers say the "prevailing wage" law that Alta may have run afoul of in Washington, D.C., which requires government contractors to be paid at higher than market price, won't affect Portland's forthcoming bike share system because it applies only to direct contracts with the District of Columbia or federal government itself. (more...)

Guess what? NYC's bike share system is popular and working well

Friday, July 5th, 2013
What a difference a few weeks makes.

Five weeks in, New York City's new bike share system seems to be doing just fine.

Initially plagued with problems (and negative headlines), Citi Bike's main issue these days is keeping up with demand for the popular new mode of transit.

"After two weeks of using the program pretty much every day to get from Grand Central to the office in the morning (a block from Penn Station) and back in the evening, plus a few other trips here and there, I can't say how much I love this program," a man named Mike Cordelli wrote on Citi Bike's Facebook page Wednesday afternoon.

As we (and many other news outlets) wrote last month, Citi Bike, managed by Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, had serious problems as it was getting off the ground. An estimated one in 10 docks were failing to accept or release bikes. Membership keys were delayed. Customer service lines were clogged. (more...)

'Jobs With Justice' delivers petition to Alta Bicycle Share's Portland offices

Thursday, June 20th, 2013
Father Jack Mosbrucker and other members of Jobs
With Justice outside Alta offices yesterday.
(Photos: Jobs With Justice)

Jobs With Justice, a local non-profit that fights for worker's rights, paid a visit to the southeast Portland offices of Alta Bicycle Share yesterday. Jobs With Justice is joining the call from past and current employees of an Alta-operated bike share system in Washington D.C. who claim the company has underpaid them and hasn't given them the health benefits they are owed. (Earlier today we shared a statement from Alta about this issue.)

Chris Phillips with Portland Jobs With Justice contacted us today with photos and a statement. He says a group of about a nine people delivered a petition with over 1,500 signatures (that was started online by the D.C. employees) to Alta's office on SE Grand. The group was led by Father Jack Mosbrucker, a Catholic priest. (more...)

Alta releases statement on employee wage inquiry

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share has released an official statement about an inquiry into the companies employee labor practices. At the end of last month, sixteen current and past employees of the Alta-run Capital Bikeshare system in Washington D.C., went public with allegations that the company had underpaid them and failed to provide federally mandated health benefits. An online petition in the form of a letter to Alta VP Mia Birk has over 1,500 signatures.

Alta released a brief statement on May 27th and Birk commented on the issue in a BikePortland story on June 11th; but today's statement offers their most detailed explanation of the issue to date.
(more...)

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

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013
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: (more...)

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