City, Alta Bicycle Share secure funding for Portland Bike Share system

Screen grab from Portland Bike Share website.

After a year-long hunt for private sponsors that left many doubting whether it was possible, Alta Bicycle Share and the City of Portland have lined up agreements that will bring a publicly funded bicycle sharing system to Portland.

“Bike share private sponsorships are secured and available before the initial system launch in 2014,” the city wrote in a state grant application dated Nov. 21 (PDF).

It’s not yet clear who the sponsor or sponsors might be, or what their terms with the city might be. And no contract has been signed — nor is one certain to be before the formal announcement, which city officials said might be made in a matter of weeks. Reached by phone, Portland Active Transportation Division Manager Dan Bower said he couldn’t expand on the details beyond what was in the grant application.

“The things that were in the grant application, we stand behind,” Bower said.

“Bike share private sponsorships are secured and available before the initial system launch in 2014.”
— PBOT state grant application

Like all high-profile sponsorship deals, bike sharing sponsorships are typically kept private until full details can be released, in order to maximize media exposure of an announcement.

Of the anticipated $4.6 million launch cost, $1.8 million came from a federal grant, the rest from private sponsors. After that, Alta says it can pay for operations through a combination of private sponsors and revenue from the system’s users, though expansions are likely to require public funding for the new equipment.

This grant application was made public by Willamette Week last Wednesday; but no one shared this small, important detail about the funding. Earlier today, a BikePortland commenter who goes by “babygorilla” mentioned it in a comment so we contacted PBOT and confirmed the news.

Alta Bicycle Share Vice President Mia Birk at a 2013
event to recruit bike share sponsors.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The application said that Phase 1 of Portland’s bike share would have 75 stations and 750 bikes, mostly in the downtown and central east side. That’s the same size as the city has been promising for more than a year, suggesting that the city has secured something close to the full $2.8 million in private sponsorships anticipated for the launch.

Unlike in some other cities, it was operator Alta Bicycle Share’s responsibility to secure a sponsor, rather than the city itself. In its proposal to the city, Alta suggested ambitious sponsorship totals that reflect what the company thinks will be particularly strong bike sharing ridership here in the country’s most bike-friendly major metro area.

In September, we used Alta’s formal proposal to report on many details of the proposed system, including the likely membership cost (about $75 per year, or $5 a day for tourists and other dabblers) and pricing structure (once you have a membership, each individual ride from one station to another would be free within the first 30 minutes).

If approved, the state grant in question would rapidly scale that program up to 1,050 bikes by 2015 and expand the system into Portland’s close-in east-side neighborhoods.

Public bike sharing has been a long time coming in Portland, ever since former Mayor Sam Adams visited Lyon, France in 2007 and set a goal to be the first U.S. city with a modern bicycle sharing system.

That milestone went to Denver in 2010, and dozens of U.S. cities have since followed, including Minneapolis, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Columbus and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Having this funding secured is a major step forward for Portland Bike Share. But at this point, it’s still anyone’s guess who the sponsor (or sponsors) is.

Update 3:05 pm: Willamette Week reports on a Dec. 4 memo in which Alta’s Mia Birk told the city that her company is “continuing to make progress on resolving the outstanding issues of the agreement.” Willamette Week concludes that “no agreements have been reached.” We stand by our reporting.

— Browse our past coverage of Portland Bike Share here.

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