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Friday, September 28, 2012

City Zeroes in on Alta to Run Portland Bike Share

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 2:41 PM

For better or worse, here we come! The Portland Bureau of Transportation announced today that it has chosen Portland-based company Alta Bicycle Share as the finalist to run the ambitious bike sharing system that aims to roll out across Portland next year. The city chose Alta over river B-Cycle in part, it seems, because it's a Portland company.

"Alta Bicycle Share is a good, homegrown company that has emerged as an international leader in operating bike share systems," said Mayor Sam Adams, in a statement.

The proposal calls for 74 stations around downtown and the inner eastside hosting 740 bikes that anyone can check out with a credit card and be billed by the hour—sort of like Zipcar for bikes. It's hard to imagine just how much bike sharing will change the experience of being downtown, but imagine if everyone who worked in or visited downtown could hop on a bike whenever they wanted. This will mean a lot more bikes on the streets.

This is the point where things get nitty-gritty for the city as it will now start to negotiate its contract with Alta. The contract here has serious stakes, as Alta has been involved in high-profile chaos surrounding bike share in New York City and Chattanooga.

Alta is caught in a messy battle between the companies that build the hardware and software for their bike share system. The Gothamist has a rundown of the drama, but basically, Alta works with Canadian company Public Bike Share System Company to provide the actual bikes and locking stations for the bike share program. For the roll-out of its sharing systems in Washington DC and Boston, Public Bike contracted a company called 8D to create and run the bike-renting software.

But after it landed the contract for New York, Public Bike ditched the software company and tried to develop the bike-sharing software in house. The results have been rather buggy and unreliable, prompting New York City to delay its roll-out and creating major embarrassment for Alta. Meanwhile, the software company is suing Public Bike and Public Bike is counter-suing the software company and it's not clear when exactly New York will gets its system. Ugh.

New York's system is entirely privately funded by Citibank. In Portland, the $4.5 million system will initially be funded by private money and $2 million in federal funds that city council voted last year to use for bike sharing.

Portland is supposed to cut the ribbon on its bike sharing system by spring of 2013—less than a year from now. It's possible that Alta's partners could have their legal mess sorted out by then. In its deal with Alta, the city will definitely need to nail down the details and make sure we're not left on the hook.

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