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Alta selected to build and operate Seattle bike share system

286d91eaff27db78279225d1bc735206Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share will build and operate Puget Sound Bike Share‘s planned system, the organization announced Tuesday.

Alta has also recently won contracts in Portland, Vancouver BC and San Francisco, and the company last week launched what will be its biggest bike share system: Citibike in New York City. They are also behind the bike share systems in Washington DC and Boston.

Out of five proposals received, Puget Sound Bike Share Director Holly Houser said B-Cycle also stood out, but that Alta’s dedication to developing a helmet-vending system and solar technology for the stations helped elevate the company to the top.

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Houser also noted that Alta has been successful at designing bike share systems that meet the unique needs of various cities.

Alta drew some critical press last year after technical and supply issues delayed the roll-out of the Citibank-sponsored New York system. Houser said such issues were “our largest concern with Alta going into it,” but she believes Alta has addressed the issues through the process of launching New York’s massive system.

“We feel pretty confident that if it’s ready to launch in New York, then it’s ready to launch here,” she said.

With a recommended $750,000 grant to launch the system in the U-District and several other funding sources lined up, PSBS already has about half of the money they need to launch 50 stations with 500 bikes in spring of 2014. They hope to get the rest from sponsorships, and the door is still very open for a major sponsor to step in and gain branding rights (I’m a big fan of “Starbikes” myself. But I could also see Microsoft “X-Bikes” or “Amazooms” or maybe even a Boeing “0.787” …)

The biggest concern about bike share in Seattle remains King County’s rare all-ages helmet law. No other big system in the country operates in a city with a helmet law in place, and PSBS is not looking for a repeal of the law before the launch of the system.

However, Seattle may be in a good place with Vancouver getting ready to roll out their bike share system with a helmet solution in place this summer (British Columbia also has an all-ages helmet law). Alta has developed a helmet-vending solution they will try first in Vancouver, and we could get a chance to see how things go there and adjust our strategy accordingly.

Portland and Seattle are on schedule to launch their bike share systems around the same time in early 2014. Though both systems will be created by Alta, it is not likely memberships will be able to work between cities, Houser said, though that could happen some day.

Now that a vendor has been selected, PSBS can make a harder push for sponsors and dive into public outreach. Branding and design of the system is not yet decided pending any potential sponsors. The name of the system will likely be in place by the fall, Houser said.

Most importantly, the system needs to respond to the wishes of the community, and Houser said outreach to organizations around town will guide that process.

“We want to make sure the community feels like this is a system that belongs to them, and they have some ownership over it,” she said.

Here’s the full press release from Puget Sound Bike Share. They are holding a press conference at noon at the South Lake Union Discovery Center:

Puget Sound Bike Share, a nonprofit partnership of public and private organizations, announced today that it has selected Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share as its operator/vendor.  Alta will work with PSBS to plan, launch and sustain a regional bike share network beginning with approximately 500 bikes and 50 stations in Seattle and eventually expanding into other areas of the Puget Sound region.  One of the most experienced bike share companies in North America, Alta is the vendor/operator behind the highly successful Capital Bike Share in Washington D.C. and Boston’s Hubway. In the coming months, Alta will launch Citibike in New York City, the largest bike share network in the nation, as well as systems in Chicago, Vancouver, B.C., Portland and San Francisco.
Puget Sound Bike Share announced the selection of Alta in a posting on its Facebook page.  In the note, executive director Holly Houser wrote:

“We have been and continue to be impressed with Alta’s approach to bike share and their ability to partner with cities and successfully deliver location-specific systems.  Alta is able to address a number of the Seattle’s unique challenges, offering innovative solar technology, 7-speed bikes and an integrated helmet vending solution. Alta brings the experience and state of the art equipment to operate a bike share network that meets revenue goals and appeals to users with intuitive design and top notch service.
Bike share systems in world class cities from Paris to London to Washington D.C. have become instantly iconic symbols of vibrant and progressive urban centers.  It’s our turn now.  Bike sharing belongs here.
This is a huge milestone for us, and with state and federal grants pending, we are ready to actively pursue a title or presenting corporate sponsor. This is a rare and exceptional opportunity for a visionary partner to support and associate themselves with a transformative community-wide program.”

Puget Sound Bike Share would not exist without support and guidance from local government leaders, including King County Metro, the City of Seattle, Sound Transit, the City of Kirkland, the City of Redmond, Puget Sound Regional Council, Washington Department of Transportation and supporters and advisers at University of Washington, Seattle Children’s, Cascade Bicycle Club, Microsoft and REI.
According to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, “Bike share provides residents and visitors with more transportation options. This is a solution for our region that will not only make it easier to get around and improve health, but based on what’s happened in other cities, permanently changes the way people experience their community. It’s a really exciting thing for Seattle. Our city is known for our natural beauty and great neighborhoods. Now people will have more options for get to both.” 

“Bike sharing, like car sharing, will work to reduce the need for personal automobiles.” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Puget Sound Bike Share and Alta can give people more options to keep our urban areas moving in a cost-effective way.”
Puget Sound Bike Share will now enter into contract negotiations with Alta, with a goal beginning launch preparations in early summer.
For more information visit www.pugetsoundbikeshare.org and www.altabicycleshare.com.
Follow us @PSBikeShare on Twitter and at Puget Sound Bike Share on Facebook.

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11 responses to “Alta selected to build and operate Seattle bike share system”

  1. Gary

    I was pleased to see that they were going to use 7 speed bicycles. However I am worried about the limited number of bicycles in the system, which infers a limited number of dropoff and pickup sites. The last thing we need is for the system to be judged a failure becuase of limited access to the bikes themselves.

  2. S. Morris Rose

    I wouldn’t count on Vancouver’s bike share program to be substantially implemented in 2013.

  3. Matthew


    OK, it’s betting pool time. Over/under on number of months behind schedule Alta will be with the launch: 11.5

    I wonder if an enterprising company (maybe even one of the four rejected proposals) will just do an end-around this whole business, install a more modern smart-lock fleet instead of the smart-dock technology Alta is pushing, and beat them to the punch. Yes, I know smart-lock has its own problems, but it’s a much quicker rollout. It would be nice to see a little more innovation in this space.

  4. Nick

    The helmet law is going to make this very hard to succeed in Seattle. Spontaneous, unplanned bike trips is what this is all about, and the small hurdle of renting a helmet will stop people from acting on their inspiration to take a quick bike trip.

    If Seattle and Vancouver are serious about bike share, and about bicycling in general, they would repeal mandatory helmet laws before attempting to roll out a system.

  5. Matthew

    I’m a bit more skeptical than you about the impact of the helmet law. First of all, it’s almost never enforced; I would be surprised if suddenly the cops started enforcing it on a widespread basis after the bike share rollout. More likely will be the kinds of temporary, targeted enforcement that we see around rolling through stop signs on the Burke-Gilman: a one or two day “sting” operation, followed by six months of status quo. Sure, it will suck if you get a ticket, but I can’t imagine a widespread crackdown all of a sudden, just like I can’t imagine a widespread crackdown on the (also illegal) flashing front lights.

    I’m more concerned about the huge amount of money it takes to install these bike rental stations every two blocks (on average). The sheer cost of adding more stations is what will limit bike share’s growth, until we move to a more decentralized model a la Car 2 Go.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I am wondering if the city leadership or even just the SPD leadership could give direction that helmet laws should be enforced as a secondary infraction only. If the political will isn’t there to repeal the helmet law, maybe knowing that it will only be enforced if you break another traffic law (run red light, stop sign, etc) will help encourage people to use the system even if they don’t have a helmet with them.

      Bike share systems have proven extremely safe in other cities: so safe that it may be the safest way to get around a city. I am confident we will see the same here. Once people see how safe it is, the helmet issue could shrink away. We’ll see.

      However, if the police come out and start helmet stings downtown, that could kill the system.

  6. Matthew

    I wonder if PSBS officially selected Alta’s proposal (before making it public) before or after the president of Alta resigned two weeks ago. The resignation came amidst a mini-scandal (in Chicago) and just weeks before the official launch of probably the highest visibility Alta bike-share system (New York). I don’t know if there was anything funny going on, but the timing sure seems weird.

    I’m not sure if PSBS addressed this at their event the other day; I was not able to attend. It doesn’t bode well for Alta or for the success of PSBS, though. Can we get a do-over?

  7. […] a non-profit partnership between many government and private organizations, announced recently that they selected Alta to build and run the […]

  8. […] York is also run by Alta Bike Share, the company that recently won the contract to launch and operate Puget Sound Bike Share. Alta’s launch of Citibike was not very smooth […]

  9. […] this isn’t “bike share” the way Puget Sound Bike Share will be. But it’s an interesting service for a retail operation to offer. Many hotels in the city offer […]

  10. […] are getting through their partnership with the non-profit Puget Sound Bike Share. PSBS has also selected Alta to operate the King County […]

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