Alta was hoping for.
Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share chalked up another huge victory last week when they were chosen by the City of Chicago to develop their $21 milllion bike sharing system. Alta already runs the highly successful Capital Bikeshare system and they were chosen last fall to implement New York’s City’s system, which will be the largest in the U.S..
While this should be a time of celebration over at Alta headquarters in Portland’s central eastside, the company is being forced to answer questions about the Chicago contract because a competitor who lost out on the bid is alleging that Alta used its high-level city relationships to unfair advantage in the selection process. Here’s more from the Chicago Sun-Times:
Josh Squire, owner of Bike Chicago, charged that Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein “tainted the process” by failing to disclose his prior relationship with winning bidder Alta Bicycle Share and did not really recuse himself from the selection process as he claimed to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Sun-Times story details several other allegations being made by Squire and reports that he plans to file a formal complaint (there’s also some coverage on the Grid Chicago blog).
Alta Bicycle Share is a subsidiary of Alta Planning + Design, an engineering consultancy whose president, Mia Birk, is the former bike program manager for the City of Portland. Birk, who’s also a principal of Alta Bicycle Share, responded to Squire’s allegations over the weekend. She says there’s no substance behind Squire’s allegations whatsoever.
In a statement to BikePortland, Birk wrote that her company won the bid “fair and square”:
Alta Bicycle Share, Inc. competed fair and square in a highly competitive process. We are honored to have been selected based on our qualifications and experience launching and operating bike share systems in Melbourne, Arlington VA, Washington, DC, and Boston. At this time, we are focused on contract negotiations and launch preparation to bring Chicago a world-class bike share system in support of the City’s goals.
The Chicago news came on the same day the City of Portland gave the official green light to move forward with a search for its bike share operator.
Given Alta Bicycle Share’s dominance in the U.S. bike share industry and their local knowledge here in Portland, they are clearly positioned to be very competitive to win the just-released PBOT bike share contract.
Alta has worked on countless transportation contracts for PBOT and the two organizations have shared a number of employees over the years. Given these close ties and the allegations being made in Chicago, we can expect serious scrutiny by the local media on PBOT’s bike share selection process.
Back in July 2010, after Alta won a $200,000 PBOT contract to develop new bikeways in north and northeast Portland, Beth Slovic — formerly of The Willamette Week and now working for The Oregonian — alleged that the contract came only because of Birk’s close ties with the agency.
Slovic’s article alleged that Birk was unfairly, “benefiting from a plan she helped steer,” and that two consultants hired by Birk to implement the contract were being payed an exorbitant rate.
With the recent tone around bicycling from The Oregonian (Slovic also wrote their now infamous “Roads to Ruin” piece that unfairly blamed “bike routes” for PBOT’s budget woes), it will be interesting to see how they cover the bike share contract. Stay tuned.