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As city preps for public bike share, it weighs rules for a private competitor

Posted by on September 9th, 2015 at 5:37 pm

spinlister parking

Will the bikes keep circulating?
PBOT thinks it’s important that they do.
(Image: Screen grab from Spinlister video)

Fourth in our four-post series about bike sharing in Portland.

Portland’s prospects for a public bike share system are looking as good as they ever have. Three of the city’s five council members said Wednesday that they’re excited to back a bike share deal, and a staffer for a fourth told us the proposal “looks great so far.”

Meanwhile, a different launch still seems to be in the works: a completely private bike-sharing system, a new product scheduled to be tested here in Portland by the peer-to-peer bike rental firm Spinlister.

Active Transportation Manager Margi Bradway alluded to the possibility that the city might use its legal authority over companies doing business in public space — in Spinlister’s case, making money from bikes parked at public bike staples.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Spinlister’s chief marketing officer told BikePortland that he had originally been planning to announce a proposed service area for Spinlister’s forthcoming smart bike service on Wednesday.

“Then I heard that the city was announcing something, and I didn’t want to rain on their parade,” Andrew Batey said. “I’m stoked that they’re finally getting their bike share together.”

Last March, Spinlister predicted a “summer” launch for the service, in which Spinlister would pay for new bicycles with Bluetooth electronics built into their bodies. Spinlister would mail the free bikes to selected Portlanders on request.

Then those Portlanders would release their bikes for any Spinlister member to pick up, use temporarily, and drop anywhere in the service area. Spinlister and the bike’s owner would split the revenue.

With just 12 days left in summer, Batey declined to predict the revised launch date.

“For me it’s not about the date that we roll out,” he said. “If I wanted to roll out tomorrow, I could.”

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Batey said Spinlister has a working prototype of its bikes but hasn’t yet hired all the local staff that might be required for such a service.

Meanwhile, Spinlister’s plans are leaving the city with some interesting questions. In an interview last week, Active Transportation Manager Margi Bradway alluded to the possibility that the city might use its legal authority over companies doing business in public space — in Spinlister’s case, making money from bikes parked at public bike staples — to ensure that the company has some sort of plan for ensuring that the bikes don’t just sit around collecting rust.

A Spinlister image of one of their branded shared bikes, built by Vanmoof and to be owned by individuals.

“If you’re going to operate a bike share system in the public realm, then we want to make sure those bikes are cared for,” city bike share project manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth said Wednesday. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re the de facto rebalancing instrument through our abandoned bike [telephone] line.”

Bradway said that if Spinlister plans to launch, some sort of official plan for keeping the bikes maintained is “a conversation that needs to happen.”

“We don’t have to know their whole business model,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “We just want to know how they’re going to make sure their bikes don’t get abandoned.”

Batey, for his part, said that if a fleet of abandoned bikes “becomes a problem, then we’re going to be the first ones to sit down and resolve it.”

“We’re going to run a pilot,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about it until it becomes an issue, I guess is my standpoint, because I don’t think there will be an issue.”

I asked Bradway if Portland sees Spinlister’s promised bike share system as a competitor or an asset to Portland’s public one.

Both, she said.

“We’ll play a complementary role to each other and there’ll be some overlap or market competition,” Bradway said. She also mentioned that Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat had weighed in. “Leah has said this all the time: More bikes in Portland is a good thing.”

[Disclaimer: Spinlister is a BikePortland advertising partner.]

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16 Comments
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    Adam Herstein September 10, 2015 at 8:30 am

    A good idea for Spinlister is to have their service area cover parts of the city that the official bike share does not. So far, that’s most of SE.

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    J_R September 10, 2015 at 8:37 am

    As one who worked part of his career in local government, I rather hate to say it, but I have more confidence in Spinlister than I do in the City of Portland when it comes to implementing bikeshare. The city has been working on this for almost a decade and has been promising the implement it “very soon” for several years. I think this is a case where the city ought to “get out of the way” and let the private sector have a go at it rather than the city trying to preemptively regulate it.

    As for the problem with abandon bikes, the only abandon bikes I see are the ones piled up at “mobile bike repair facilities” along the Springwater corridor and similar locations. How about dealing with those “abandon bikes?”

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    mark September 10, 2015 at 9:16 am

    The city is so concerned about making it perfect, they are dragging their feet and “studying” the issue. That said, the smart bikes are pretty cool and as someone who has seen B cycle in action, I can say it’s superior to the old B bike tech. So…maybe the city is waiting in order not to be stuck with version 1.0 and instead hoping to cash in on 2.0. Either way, this riding season is almost done..hoping for them to get their proverbial ducks in a row and make it happen for spring/summer 2016.

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      Psyfalcon September 10, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      Fall is the best riding season in Portland.

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    Granpa September 10, 2015 at 9:32 am

    The Spinlister bike (shown) is not a Portland bike. I like the belt drive but where are the fenders? it rains here. The little tray straddling the headlight is hardly cargo storage (a pack of cigs or some potent edibles perhaps) and where is the 15 pound lock for another aspect of Portland’s character. The matte color is low viz. Perhaps the fleet should all be painted yellow…… oh wait a minute……

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      9watts September 10, 2015 at 10:03 am

      The lack of fenders is odd. One wonders who comes up with these designs.

      Then again in certain circles fenders are very much looked down upon.

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    Champs September 10, 2015 at 9:42 am

    “…the city might use its legal authority over companies doing business in public space”

    Is this not Getaround’s business model, except with free private vehicle storage at staples instead of city streets?

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      Michael Andersen September 10, 2015 at 10:04 am

      Sorta – the main difference is that Getaround doesn’t mail people free cars and encourage said cars to float to semi-random locations around the city.

      At least not yet. 🙂

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        Paul Manson September 10, 2015 at 10:40 am

        And technically Getaround cars are not supposed to live in the public ROW. (Though they often do…)

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    Todd Hudson September 10, 2015 at 10:07 am

    “Batey, for his part, said that if a fleet of abandoned bikes “becomes a problem, then we’re going to be the first ones to sit down and resolve it.””

    Considering the city’s low priority of dealing with abandoned automobiles, I doubt they’ll do much “resolving” with abandoned bikes.

    There was a crashed up minivan on my commute that sat for months until it mysteriously vanished one day. The mulitple PDX Reporter complaints I made six+ months ago are still listed as “status: open”.

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      Jessica Roberts September 10, 2015 at 2:14 pm

      Todd, this is just one experience, but I called the abandoned bike hotline (503-823-5345) for one that was succumbing to entropy at a highly-desirable staple rack near a library. It was gone within 48 hours.

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      Psyfalcon September 10, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      There was at least one totally burnt out car and several other trashed ones out near 92nd.

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    gutterbunnybikes September 10, 2015 at 10:29 am

    I admit I was excited about the spinlister, even signed up to sponsor one. But the more I think about the cities plan the more I like it.

    The idea of “dumb” stations is brilliant. They could work out a deal with Trimet and every max stop is instantaneously a station. Or Fred Meyers (well Kroger), Whole Foods, Green Zebra and all those staple stations in converted street parking spots. And all they would need to do is add the bicycles and expand the map.

    And I suspect that is why the city is considering rules for outside bicycle share systems that use public racks, it’s now competition.

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    davemess September 10, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    “For me it’s not about the date that we roll out,” he said. “If I wanted to roll out tomorrow, I could.”

    What does that even mean?
    What business isn’t interested/worried/obssessed/concerned with their opening date?

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    Skid September 14, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Too bad the city doesn’t pay this kind of attention to AirBnB or Uber

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    Bo July 28, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    The way I see it Spinlister bikes will be better maintained than a city owned share bike and definitely never be abandoned. If someone has skin in the game, then that person has the incentive to not let their investment be wasted.

    I’m a bike nerd and have several bikes that I lend out to friends when they visit from out of town. I was about to sell one from my collection and decided so give Spinlister a try. I’m so glad I didn’t sell my Trek 2500 Pro… it was rented so many days last summer that the money earned would have been the same as my selling price, but I still own the bike and it keeps making me money. I’ve listing my spare bikes with Spinlister for about 3 years now and I love how they’ve become positive cashflow!

    Maybe I’ve gotten lucky, but every person that has rented my bike is also a cycling enthusiast and took care of my bike as if it were their own. I’ve not have a problem with a renter, knock on wood. If I do have an issue Spinlister is very responsive. They’ve been very responsive on other issues I’ve contacted on, such as problems with the app.

    My bikes all ride exceptionally well, give me a shout if you’re visiting the Venice Beach/Santa Monica/Culver City area and get a discount. Search the 90066 area code and look for my bikes at intersection of Venice & Inglewood Blvd. http://spnl.st/s/eb2fdb

    Seems the more my bikes get rented on Spinlister, the more bikes I collect. Yes, I have a bike addiction and Spinlister is an enabler.

    As soon as their bike share program is rolled out in Los Angeles, I’ll join that as well.

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