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At bike share event, City begins crucial search for sponsors

Posted by on February 21st, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Mia Birk at bike share event

Mia Birk made the pitch for bike share
at the Porltand Art Museum last night.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

At the Portland Art Museum last night, high society donors mixed with corporate bigwigs and local bike industry luminaries. While PAM got in a few words about their upcoming major exhibition of Cyclepedia (opens June 8th), the main reason for the gathering was to wine-and-dine potential sponsors of the forthcoming Portland Bike Share system.

While the event put a shine on bike share in hopes to woo sponsors, it underscored an urgent need to raise money. So far the system only has $1.8 million in the bank thanks to a federal grant. However, the estimate to fully launch (750 bikes) and operate the system in the first year is $6.6 million ($4.7 million to get the system on the street and $1.9 million in operating costs). That leaves a significant funding gap that PBOT and Alta need to close. Given that the goal is to launch a complete system, rather than trickle out bikes and stations in phases, the City would prefer to wait until all that sponsorship money is in hand before moving forward.

“I look forward to being a customer of Portland bike share.”
— Mayor Charlie Hales

A sponsorship packet passed out at last night’s event said sponsorship would come with $2.9 million in annual media value for a title sponsor (based in part on an estimated 3.8 million daily impressions plus 8,500 daily social media impressions). They’re looking for “title” and “presenting” sponsors to commit to five year agreements for $1.25 million and $500,000 per year respectively. They also hope to find three-year “station sponsors” at $10,000 per year.

This gap between funding needs and fundraising progress has Alta Bicycle Share Inc. (the chosen contractor on the project) and the City now saying we should expect the system to launch in spring of 2014 — not this spring as has been previously advertised. That’s a conservative estimate meant to dial back expectations given that no sponsorship money has been raised yet. Dan Bower, manager of PBOT’s Active Transportation Division, said in a phone call this morning that they need about six months to deploy the system after they raise the $4.9 million.

So, technically, if a major sponsor walked into PBOT’s office with a check tomorrow, he said, Portland Bike Share could be up and running by August.

At the event last night, Alta lined up Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Mayor Charlie Hales to give their strong endorsements to the project. (Former Mayor Sam Adams, who pushed for bike share during his time in office, was also at the event.) Alta’s Mia Birk is the public face for the project and she shared a presentation last night that outlined the potential benefits and value of investing in the system.

Mayor Hales at bike share event

Mayor Hales at the event.

Blumenauer told the crowd that in Washington D.C., Capital Bikeshare (an Alta-managed system) recently celebrated its three millionth ride. “It’s the only mass transit system in the U.S. that fully covers its operating costs,” he pointed out to much applause. He said bike share will be, “An important addition to the livability of downtown,” and that it will, “Add another signature to the Portland experience.”

For his part, simply being present as a booster of bike share, was an important move for Hales. For a new mayor looking to differentiate himself from Sam Adams and be seen as a “back to basics” guy when it comes to transportation, Hales’ strong support for bike share is noteworthy. “I look forward to being a customer of Portland bike share,” he said during his remarks.

When Birk took the stage, it was just like old times. As City bike coordinator in the 1990s, she’s remembered as the woman who won over bike lane leery Portlanders by her sheer energy and enthusiasm. Some of that was on display again last night. “I started as a bike share skeptic, but my mind has been changed,” she said. After showing a Streetfilms on Minnesota’s Nice Ride system, Birk made the pitch. “Strong partnership with businesses is key to success of this program. We need you!”

Birk said they want to raise a minimum of $3 million in private sponsorships. She reminded attendees from the likes of Whole Foods, REI, Umpqua Bank, and others that Citibank paid $41 million for title sponsorship of New York City’s bike share system. Birk’s pitch explained how sponsors will benefit from an association with healthy and active lifestyles, and a vibrant downtown. “Bike share users are great representatives for the system,” she added, “Imagine 750 zooming billboards around popular business districts.”

It’s a pitch that hopefully someone (or two) will take a big swing on. With no chance of City subsidies, the only thing stopping our bike share launch is a lack of sponsorship dollars.

Who will see the light and become sponsor of bike share in America’s most bike-friendly city? Anyone? Anyone?

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  • Dweendaddy February 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    $4.7 million to get a 750 bike share system up and running reminds you of how expensive these things are: $6200 per bike. There have been wonderfully successful stories (like DC http://www.slate.com/articles/life/doers/2013/01/capital_bikeshare_how_paul_demaio_gabe_klein_adrian_fenty_and_other_dc_leaders.html), but I always wonder if it is money well spent.

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    • rwl1776 February 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      Dween is right: What exactly is all of this $ being spent on? If you divide the first year cost of $6.6 million by 750 bikes, that is $8800 each! Yes, that is the initial investment, but geez, how is going to capitalize on this major multi million $ expenditure.

      They should make it a Buy America First compliant program: a MAJORITY of the money must be spent on Made in USA bikes and supporting architecture and hardware, just like the Streetcar program.

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      • Allan February 21, 2013 at 1:36 pm

        You are contradicting yourself: why would you complain about cost and then talk about Buy America First – a program that basically jacks up the price of projects

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    • Birdie February 21, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      It’s inaccurate to divide the up front launch expenses or yearly operating expenses by the number bikes in the system. That’s like dividing the total cost of developing the streetcar system by the number of cars that would operate.
      The up front costs include the other system hardware (stations, where the bikes “live” when they aren’t being run), as well as business expenses it takes to launch a new transit system. Yearly operating expenses include the salaries for local staff that will be hired to manage the system.

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    • anon1q2w3e4r5t February 27, 2013 at 8:47 am

      It’s not money well spent. No amount of success stories from cities that have already implemented a bike sharing program, or even the support from prominent figures, will be able to match what I’m going to reveal later this year. 2013 = Beginning of the end of bike sharing.

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  • Spiffy February 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    BikePortland could hold a fundraiser and put their name on the bikes…

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  • doug b February 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Those Citi bikes in NYC sure gave the sponsors a lot of exposure last year, oh wait…

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  • Allan February 21, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    We’re not asking for enough money. If we asked for more, we could build out a bigger system

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  • paul g. February 21, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Sigh. The system may be successful in Portland. I hope it is. But Congressman Blumenauer knows better than to compare Portland to DC. More than 15 million tourists visit Washington DC annually, generating 5.6 billion in estimated revenue. The whole Portland metro area attracts less than half (7.8 million) and they spend far less (3.8 billion). The Census reports that less than 1/3 of Washington DC residents report commuting by car to work and 34% report not owning a car. Comparable figures for Portland: 72% report commuting alone by car and another 11% by car pool. We do not rank even in the top 50 in terms of percent non-car ownership.

    We are not Washington DC. Few cities are Washington DC. Compare us to comparable cities. But comparing us to Washington DC is comparing apples to kumquats, and is badly misleading.

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  • Brad February 21, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    $4.7 million bucks worth of wasted opportunity. That could have bought a lot of paint, education, Safe Routes to School, etc. Now the city is begging for sponsor cash. I’ll laugh (and maybe shed a few tears) if the top bidder is Tonkin Auto Group – “For The Love of Cars!”.

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    • Paul February 21, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      Right. Try getting a sponsor for paint.

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  • Sunny February 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    I know of no better entity than Trimet to handle this.

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  • Lisa Marie February 21, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    An ideal situation that I believe would benefit the bike share AND benefit the companies involved: a coalition of funding from local businesses. Maybe someone should start approaching companies/start building a group of contributors.

    Realistically, it will have to be comprised of primarily larger companies (like Columbia), but with current marketing and consumer trends, this would almost definitely pay off rather heftily to businesses that choose to get involved.

    Anyone have any ideas for Oregon-based businesses that would be ideal?

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    • Craig Harlow February 22, 2013 at 10:21 am

      I see benefit to that idea, specifically in a way that lets smaller business consort to invest and derive value from their investment, i.e. “Alberta Arts District”, “FoodCartsPortland.com”, etc.

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      • Craig Harlow February 22, 2013 at 10:28 am

        I recognize that they wouldn’t fill the role of “major” sponsorship, but “many hands…” I hope the funding strategy doesn’t stand or fall on the hope that another Citibank shunts their advertising millions in this direction, because the likelihood is real that none will.

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  • Sunny February 21, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Roving billboard system 2.0

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  • dwainedibbly February 21, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Not surprised about the delay.

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  • o/o February 21, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    I am hoping The Oregonians will be a major sponsor for this bikeshare… /sarcasm

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  • Bikeshare February 22, 2013 at 9:51 am

    RE: 1 year delay.

    I dont want to say i told you so.

    But I told you so.

    Has there every been an Alta bike share contract that was not delayed at least one year?

    I also like how they manage to get the city to do all the work for them while they sit back and not deliver on their contract.

    Isnt it their job to secure funding when bidding for the project?

    Sort of amusing that other companies who deal with the complete financial package, and deploy on time lose out because they lack the high level connections. And by amusing, I mean a sad display of how our system works.

    I also like how the delay gets casually hidden into the article, when it should be the headline.

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  • Oregon Mamacita February 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Well, it seems to me that maybe a city in financial crisis should decline to dabble in bike rental.

    If bike rental is a great idea, why aren’t there privately owned bike share rental companies?

    BTW, under Adams, Portland entered into a corrupt, patronage type situation that would make modern Chicago blush. Because the patronage jobs involve well-scrubbed young college grads and “green” measures, they go unquestioned. So, in a budget crisis, someone on the city payroll writes grant proposals that should be written by a private company? What a joke. BTW- one of the earlier posters claims that we can’t divide the start up costs by the number of bikes. Oh yes we can, and you reject the accounting because it reveals a painful truth about the project.

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  • Oregon Mamacita February 25, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    But Alta requires public assistance. It is not a “real” business.

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    • spare_wheel April 23, 2013 at 10:59 am

      So GE, HP, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing,and General Dynamics are not “real” businesses?

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