Alta Bicycle Share, the spinoff of Portland-based Alta Planning + Design that has dominated bike-sharing headlines after securing a string of high-profile contracts in major U.S. cities is now getting a much different kind of publicity. Delays to system roll-outs in New York City, Chicago, Boston and Chattanooga have gotten national media attention and have raised questions about the company’s ability to handle their growth. For their part, Alta acknowledges that the culprit in the delays is new software their partner Public Bike System Company (PBSC) is developing to handle the complex wireless transactions and rental processes at the bike share stations.
Alta uses the Bixi platform, which was developed by Montreal’s municipal parking authority by the PBSC. The Bixi system is operated with software developed for them by 8D Technologies. As PBSC began to export the successful Bixi system around the globe, they continued to use the 8D software. But, when PBSC expanded into the U.S., 8D alleges that the company cut off ties and began to use a new software system developed by an American company (Alta only operates the system, they are not involved with the software development). 8D has sued PBSC for breach of contract and the two companies are still trying to work out their legal differences.
Meanwhile, Alta and PBSC secured contracts in New York City, Chicago and Chattanooga. The only problem is, the new software isn’t ready for prime-time and that has led to embarrassing delays in all three cities (the Chicago project is also delayed due to a dispute of the selection process involving the losing vendor who says Alta got unfair advantages in the selection process).
“We don’t anticipate that the New York delay will affect other cities’ planned launches.”
— Mia Birk, Alta Planning + Design (parent company of Alta Bicycle Share)
The New York City delay has garnered the most headlines. Their planned 10,000 bike system (privately sponsored by Citi Bank) was supposed to launch last month; but the NYC Department of Transportation has now announced a March 2013 launch date. NYC DOT released a statement this morning that included a comment from Alta Bicycle Share and New York City Bike Share (NYCBS) president, Alison Cohen.
“We recognize that New Yorkers are eagerly anticipating the launch of the bike share system and we will deliver on that promise,” Cohen said. “NYCBS continues work to conclude manufacture and testing of the high-performance software necessary to operate the new system, which is being tailored for New York City.”
Alta is on the final list of two vendors still competing for Portland’s bike share contract (along with B-Cycle). Portland officials won’t comment on the ongoing vendor selection process; but it’s not hard to imagine that they are aware of the headlines involving the locally based company.
If Alta wins the Portland bid, they’ll be expected to launch the NYC system and the Portland system in spring of 2013.
For their part, Alta says there’s nothing to worry about. Asked whether delays in other cities will impact their ability to deliver Portland’s system on time (if they get the contract), Alta Planning + Design President Mia Birk said, “No. We don’t anticipate that the New York delay will affect other cities’ planned launches.”
B-Cycle, Alta’s competition for the Portland bid, currently runs bike-share systems in 11 cities including Houston, Madison, and Denver.
— For more on Portland’s bike share plans, read our past coverage.
CORRECTION: Initial versions of this story incorrectly reported that Alta Bicycle Share was developing the new software to run the Bixi System. That is not the case. Alta is not involved with developing the new software. I regret the error and any confusion is caused. — Jonathan Maus, 8/21/12.