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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Could Seattle's Bike Share Program Offer the Spark Portland's Needs?

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 10:59 AM


Portland's Alta Bicycle Share has won the right to usher another large city into the age of bike share—and that could spell a boon for Portland's currently cash-poor system.

Puget Sound Bike Share yesterday announced it had selected Alta to build and operate a 500 bike system in Seattle. Officials say they'll have the system up and rolling by 2014, around the same time Portland's tardy system is now expected to begin.

That might sound like a rosy projection to folks familiar with delays in other Alta projects. When the company was announced as Portland's choice for bike share, the city was touting a spring 2013 launch date. But neither Alta nor the city had secured sponsors for the program at that point, and they still haven't. The system is short roughly $6 million it would need to purchase and set up a 750-bike system, then run it for five years.

In corporation-laden New York City, Alta easily secured funding for a system, but was plagued by software errors that have since been resolved. The NYC program's expected to launch in May.

Holly Houser, executive director of Puget Sound Bike Share, isn't spooked by either example. She's confident Seattleites will be sharing bikes like gangbusters right on schedule.

"We actually feel it's a fairly conservative timeline," Houser says.

Damn it. Is Seattle doing bike share better than us?

Sort of. Where Portland waited until selecting an operator to ferret out money, the nonprofit that will operate Seattle's system has been searching for months.

"We've already identified potential partners," Houser tells the Mercury. "We're ready, when we have a contract, to go out and make the ask."

Seattle, being a home to more large corporations than PDX, will likely have an easier time securing title sponsors for its endeavor. But that's potentially helpful for Portland. According to Houser, there's a chance Seattle's eventual sponsor might also be interested in ponying up for Portland's system.

"It's sort of a given" since Alta is building both networks, Houser said. "It could actually be more of a collaborative effort."

But she cautioned: "It's an idea. It's not something that we've begun to pursue."

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