Bike-Share Hits Yet Another Snag in Portland, Oregon

The city planned to unveil its $4 million program in 2014. But Bixi's bankruptcy has officials reconsidering.

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Portland, Oregon, is probably the most bike-centric city in the United States, with enviably advanced bike infrastructure, the country's highest percentage of two-wheeled commuters (just over 6 percent), and a robust cohort of riders (ridiculed to national acclaim on the IFC series Portlandia).
 
What Portland doesn't have is a bike-share program.
 
That was supposed to change, with Portland on track to implement a $4 million, 75-station system. In 2013, officials delayed the launch a year. And now, the bankruptcy of Bixi might delay the program further, according to the Oregonian.
 

Portland hired Alta Bicycle Share to install its system. Alta, which operates systems in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., relied on Bixi for the bikes and stations.

Alta ditched the company after it filed for bankruptcy in January of this year (Bixi's finances were in disarray for years before the filing, though executives received hefty bonuses in late 2013). It has since partnered with 8D Technologies, which created Bixi's software. And it's told the press that Bixi's problems won't affect systems already on the ground.

Still Portland's officials - who planned to split system financing between public money and private sponsorships - say they won't move forward until Alta provides them an "iron-clad business plan."
 
Update: Mia Birk, president of Alta and a former employee of the city of Portland, emailed to say that the bike-share delays have been caused by a number of factors. She writes:
The [Oregonian] article was a bit misleading, in that it put a unfairly large emphasis on the equipment. The truth is that numerous factors have slowed the process, including City leadership changes, complex contracting issues, sponsor negotiations, and other factors. The City is committed to bike share, but is choosing to take it a bit slower, with the vision that bike share will be a key component of Portland’s transportation strategy for the long term. The City’s reliance on private sector investment (sponsor dollars) certainly has created a more complex situation that other cities that have relied more on public dollars. ... Although we are ready to launch bike share in 2014, we understand the City's goals and desire to do careful research and due diligence.
The Oregonian reports that the Portland Bureau of Transportation is holding off reluctantly:
Making the situation even more frustrating, PBOT says, is the fact that it is on the verge of inking more than one corporate sponsorship. Those deals are on hold until City Hall is confident that the new bike vendor is financially sound and won't suffer the same fate of Bixi, leaving Portland with dozens of unsupported rental stations.
 
"We're leaning more on the private sector than almost any bike-share system in North America," said PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera. Alta has provided some options for ways the city could launch bike share this year, "but the city is trying to use an abundance of caution," Rivera said.
 
The developments in Portland suggest that if demand for bike-share remains strong, a new system could de-throne Bixi, which up to this point has been dominant in the U.S. market in terms of sheer numbers.
 
This piece has been updated throughout to reflect comments from Mia Birk.
 
Top image courtesy of Flickr user Soulrider.222.

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.