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Seattle-based system will pioneer new bike share partnership + Hiring manager

Example of possible station locations (not final)
Example of possible phase 1 station locations (not final)

It’s almost official, bike share is coming to Seattle. Puget Sound Bike Share announced Thursday that they have entered into a deal that would utilize a redesigned partnership between Alta Bicycle Share and 8D Technologies to launch a Seattle-based system in 2014.

After the not-entirely-surprising bankruptcy of former Alta supplier PBSC (AKA Bixi) earlier this year, the chances of keeping a 2014 launch seemed in question. But Alta has since reunited with 8D Technologies, the company behind the much more reliable software that powers a number of Alta-implemented bike share systems in North America. These include Capital Bikeshare in DC, Hubway in Boston and Nice Ride in Minneapolis.

New York’s Citibike program has been very popular and is the largest system in North America, but it has been plagued by software issues, one cause cited for its troubled budget.

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Seattle’s system will be the first Alta system to utilize the restructured supply chain that essentially cuts the notoriously undependable and now-bankrupt PBSC out of the picture.

Puget Sound Bike Share will place an order for 500 bikes from “a well-known global manufacturer” later this month, according to a press statement (below).

The organization has also put out a job listing to hire a General Manager.

The first phase of the launch will deploy those 500 bikes at 50 stations spread out through downtown, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, Eastlake and the University District. The exact location of each station will be decided through a public process starting in May, and the location plan will go before the City Council.

Some sponsors are lined up, but have not yet been announced. The name and look of the system has also not yet been announced, though it will not be called Puget Sound Bike Share.

Alta and even the concept of bike share in general has gotten some bad press recently as news of Citibike’s financial woes broke. Aside from unavoidable unplanned costs (like Hurricane Sandy destroying equipment and delaying the launch or from a particularly cold first winter), some of Citibike’s problems are likely due to management, software issues and a perhaps unrealistic plan to operate entirely without public funds.

The Washington Post published a story this week that compares the remarkably successful and fiscally-strong Capital Bikeshare to Citibike’s woes.

Puget Sound Bike Share Director Holly Houser said lessons have been learned from New York, and she has faith in Alta to launch a successful system here.

“I am really thrilled with them and trust them implicitly,” she said of the launch team she has been working with. “All of us are still learning how to most effectively and efficiently operate bike share.”

While it is probably not reasonable to expect a bike share system to fully fund its own operating costs, Capital Bikeshare gets pretty darn close. The Arlington part of Capital Bikeshare, for example, recovered 74 percent of its operating expenses through user fees.

“Everybody knows that bike share is not a money-making venture,” said Houser. “It’s a form of public transportation.”

As a mode of public transportation, bike share is very good at recovering a large portion of its operating costs from user fees. Roads and traditional public transit both require significant subsidies beyond user fees.

One key to maximizing user fees is to have a lot of “casual” users, or people who pay the $8 or so for a day pass rather than a much more affordable $80 or so per year (exact prices differ from city to city). Basically, this means visitors and people who rarely use the system cover the bulk of the costs, and it needs to be painless and easy for people to buy the day passes.

Puget Sound Bike Share’s model has always assumed a mix of public and private funding for its launch costs. Grants are funding the South Lake Union and U District segments of the system, while sponsorships are making up the rest. Ongoing sponsorships and user fees are expected to fund operating costs.

More details on today’s announcement, from Puget Sound Bike Share:

In preparation for its 2014 launch, Puget Sound Bike Share announced today that it will be moving forward with world-class partners Alta Bicycle Share and 8D Technologies to provide bike share station hardware, software and operational solutions.

Alta Bicycle Share and 8D Technologies’ software for Seattle will build upon solutions tested and successfully deployed by bike share networks in Washington D.C. / Arlington, Boston, Minneapolis, Melbourne (AUS), London (UK), Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal (CAN).  Seattle’s will be the first program to launch with the new Alta/8D hardware solution.  Consistent with Puget Sound Bike Share’s plans to launch Phase I of the program in South Lake Union, Downtown, Capitol Hill and the U-District, the agreement includes delivery of 50 stations.

An order for 500 bikes will be placed with a well-known global manufacturer later this month.

“Over the last few months, we’ve been working closely with companies who will meet our standards for world-class hardware and brilliantly functional software.  We’re thrilled to work with innovative partners whose equipment and software has been road tested and proven to succeed around the world,” said Holly Houser, Puget Sound Bike Share Executive Director.

In addition to finalizing the hardware and software solutions, this spring Puget Sound Bike Share will make major announcements related to the official bike share system name, logo and web site, corporate sponsorships, and launch date for the network.

In May, Alta Bicycle Share and Puget Sound Bike Share will solicit feedback on station locations and other accessibility issues at a dozen neighborhood planning workshops.

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26 responses to “Seattle-based system will pioneer new bike share partnership + Hiring manager”

  1. Sooz

    I thought about applying for the GM position but sadly Alta has a very good reputation as an employer.

    1. Sooz

      Alta *doesn’t* have a good rep as an employer.

  2. anthony

    This may crash and burn so bad that it will give bikes a bad taste in many mouths of the general public. Why can’t we just get people buy a basic bike? And expecting tourists to be the biggest supporter (in PDX) is a serious miscalculation, epi fail on that.

    Not much positive in the news about Alta, so this isn’t looking good at all. Got to wonder who are the big money winners in this corporate wise since that usually drives the decision to forge ahead.

  3. Andres Salomon

    Bike share has the most bizarre pricing ever. $80/yr or $8/day? Are there other businesses that structure their pricing that way? You’ve got public transit, which generally does per-trip, weekly, and monthly passes (assuming X trips per week/month + some discount). You’ve got general membership fees for gyms/sports, where it’s per-visit, punch-card (X visits + some discount), and monthly/yearly (assumes X trips per week/month + some discount). You’ve got membership + flat fees (zipcar), chinook-book style discounts (nominal fee for per-store discounts, where they presumably rely on people becoming regular store customers). This seems designed to be ridiculously, unsustainably dirt cheap for the most common users (commuters who are not committed to cycling, and value the options or combination of bus/light rail/walking/bikeshare), and unusually punitive for those who are more likely to just walk/bus/taxi. Am I missing something? I say this as someone who is completely in favor of fully subsidized public transit. I just don’t get it.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      It is unusual. Part of the advantage, I assume, it that you sell a ton of memberships up front, which sort of front-loads your annual operating costs. I do sort of wonder why it’s annual instead of monthly (like bus passes), but it seems to be a tried and mostly-true model.

      As someone who has only ever paid for bike share in other cities a day at a time, I know that I had no problem with paying $8 for a day of biking with Denver’s B-Cycle. It doesn’t feel like a rip off in any way, even though my cost/ride ratio was way higher than a member’s. And there is something rather nice about tourists effectively subsidizing residents.

      The price you come up will definitely be different depending on your goal. Are you trying to maximize revenue? Then clearly you are willing to raise prices and lose a certain number of users until you hit the sweet spot. But then you have lost all those users (a corporation might not care about that, but a program for the public should).

      In my opinion, bike share should charge only what it needs to stay financially solid. Indeed, Citibike is looking to significantly hike its membership prices after falling short on its budget. And there needs to be easy ways for people with low incomes to get discounted memberships, an idea PSBS is already working on (stay tuned for more on that).

      1. Kimberly Kinchen

        I agree that there should be rate breaks for low income folks, but note that in NYC, the annual $95 rate for bikeshare, which operates in what for NYC is a relatively limited (though arguably most active) area , is about 30 percent less than an unlimited *monthly* pass for the subway, which operates over a much larger area. Last time I checked, monthly metrocards in Seattle were more than an unlimited NYC subway metrocard. (I stopped comparing when Orca cards come online — supposedly sophisticated New Yorker that I am, I remain puzzled every time I try to buy one).

        Anyway, that starts to get into the chicken/egg of bike infrastructure/bikeshare network coverage, etc. My point: it’s so, so cheap!

      2. Andres Salomon

        Maybe they did user studies and came to the conclusion that $8 was the sweet spot for per-day passes? Either way, it still seems like the worst of both worlds. You could have a completely subsidized system that charged a nominal fee (basically just to keep it from being free). This would encourage everyone to use it, including tourists. Alternatively, you could have a profitable system that charged enough to cover the cost of operation, at the expense of reaching a wider user base. Instead, you’ve got a system that pretends to cover costs while not really doing so, and subsidizes local usage while discriminating against visitors. If it actually did cover costs, I wouldn’t be asking for the marketing/business logic behind the pricing decision..

        P.S. If you are going to have it subsidized, how cool would it be to have it tied into metro for last-mile trips? Take the bus somewhere, grab a bike-share bike from the bus itself, ride to your destination. Return the bike to the bus stop when you’re done. The next bus that comes along with space for bike share (hopefully separate from normal bus bike racks) picks up the bike from the bus stop.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        My dream is that bike share would have taken ORCA cards. If you took the bus, you could just “transfer” to the bike share without an extra charge (or a reduced charge). But, of course, the politics of getting in on ORCA are insanely complicated, and agencies clearly don’t like cutting a new partner on sharing fares, etc.

      4. Matthew Snyder

        The way PSBS handles the pricing structure will be interesting to watch. The phase I rollout is quite sparse. If I’m a novice cyclist in the U District and I’m trying to get to parts of Capitol Hill or to the waterfront, I could see that trip easily taking a bit more than 30 minutes — especially if I’m riding one of the tanks you typically see in these kinds of bike share systems. Typically the first 30 minutes of a trip is “free” and any additional time gets billed on top of the subscription payment. But bike share becomes a lot less attractive if you have to stop half way, find a kiosk, return your bike, wait a few minutes, check out another bike, and continue on your way. And as a tourist, calculating how long it’s going to take you to go from one neighborhood to another is not easy, considering the topography you have to deal with.

        Expanding the “free trip” window to 45 or 60 minutes for a sparse phase I rollout might make more sense. Or give people more time if their trip includes 100 feet of elevation gain, or something.

      5. Tom Fucoloro

        Yeah, the U District part will be interesting since it is essentially isolated from the core of the system. Effectively, the U District system will have to operate mostly as its own system, I bet. But I don’t know how to effectively communicate that idea.

        Or maybe the system needs to embrace that a lot of people will want to go between Capitol Hill and the U District and add a couple stations along 10th Ave.

      6. Tom Fucoloro

        I should add that the map attached is pretty old, and I’m sure they have received enough feedback to modify the boundaries a bit. And they will be doing even more outreach soon. So if this is a point we think is vital, there’s time to make it.

      7. Tom Fucoloro
      8. Lisa

        Given Seattle’s hills, it would be great if there were a 15 minute bonus for taking it from a “low zone” (downtown/U-District) to a “hill zone” (Capitol Hill). Just like Car2Go gives you extra minutes for filling it up with gas.

      9. Tom Fucoloro

        Lisa, that’s a great idea!

      10. Andres Salomon

        Filling your bike up with potential energy. :)

      11. asdf2

        One big issue with sparse stations that hasn’t been much talked about is the challenge of locating a station to return your bike at the end of a trip. Without proper signage, this can often entail several blocks of circling, and several minutes added to the trip time – enough to cause overage charges to start kicking in as a 26-minute trip turns into a 32-minute trip.

  4. Southeasterner

    “Everybody knows that bike share is not a money-making venture,” said Houser. “It’s a form of public transportation.””

    It’s a form of TRANSPORTATION it has nothing to do with public vs. private. We seem to have quickly forgotten that the major U.S. airlines lost over $10 billion in 10 years and were largely bailed out by tax payers and bankruptcy protection. We seem to still have our heads in the sand that every year our nations roads are increasingly “subsidized” by sales, property, and income tax as gas tax revenue continue to stagnate or decline and maintenance costs continue to increase. We seem to ignore the fact that our nations freight rail enjoys some of the best tax benefits in the country, they built almost none of the infrastructure they currently use now “own” yet charge Amtrak millions every year for access.

    It is essential that cyclists, transit riders, pedestrians point these facts out to the general American public who is “sick of subsidizing alternative forms of transportation”.

  5. I don’t know of any bike share that has succeeded where anti-bike mandatory helmet laws similar to Seattle’s exist. At least Mexico City had the good sense to repeal their laws, with no noticeable increase in deaths.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The Puget Sound Bike Share business model does calculate in reduced ridership due to the helmet law. I anticipate that the real effect of the helmet law will be in how far the system/city goes to promote it and how the police treat enforcement. It’s definitely a concern, but Seattle bucks a lot of helmet trends (ridership has only gone up since it went into effect) so I am hopeful.

      While political reality would probably make it difficult to repeal the helmet law (at least any time soon), I have argued that it should be a secondary offense. That way, people biking dangerously and breaking other traffic laws could be liable for a double-ticket if they do so without a helmet. But people biking safely and lawfully will be fine.

      Or the police could just make primary offense helmet enforcement on bike share an extremely low priority (like pot was before legalization). After all, it’s not dangerous to others like so many other traffic violations (distracted driving, speeding, etc).

      For more on my stance on helmet laws and bike share, see this post: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2011/08/24/bike-sharing-is-coming-to-the-northwest-but-seattles-helmet-laws-get-in-the-way/

    2. Law Abider

      While we’re at it, let’s allow car drivers to not have to wear seatbelts, boaters to not have to wear life jackets, etc! I seriously don’t get the anti-helmet crowd and the energy they put into repealing the law. There’s much better causes they could focus on.

      Plus, someone not wearing a helmet clearly doesn’t care about their safety or life while riding, which means they don’t care about the safety or life of others around them. Seems like a silly argument, but no more or less silly than the anti-helmeteer’s argument of “helmets make biking seem more dangerous, so therefore less people bike.”

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Can of worms = opened.

        I really would like this thread not to devolve into another helmet debate comment fight. It gets ugly so quickly. Let’s save it for another day, or direct comments to our previous discussion about it: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2011/08/24/bike-sharing-is-coming-to-the-northwest-but-seattles-helmet-laws-get-in-the-way/

      2. Kirk

        Or perhaps create a thread in the forum….

  6. […] Seattle Bike Blog — Seattle-based system will pioneer new bike share partnership […]

  7. Ints

    A concern I have always had about bikeshare is how it frames cycling as a fringe activity instead as part of the overall transportation infrastructure available to and used by a broad spectrum of residents of the city. I know PSBS is planning to try to address this but there are serious challenges.
    Bikeshare as a piece of city transportation infrastructure still has not overcome the challenge of making itself accessible to the full spectrum of residents in the cities it operates in. Geographic distribution and buy-in requirements typically relegate it to tourists and urban professionals, positioning the bikeshare system and in some ways cycling as a marginal option for those who can afford it instead of an essential and integrated part of the overall transportation infrastructure of the city.
    Here in Seattle with spotty cycling infrastructure and challenging topography it’s usefulness becomes even more limited. The helmet requirement pushes it further in the wrong direction as well.
    The best thing I’ve heard yet is the idea of putting stations on our best piece of infrastructure (BG trail) because those will get plenty of use. Maybe also along the future west lake corridor and Elliot bay trail up to Ballard and you start to get some loops that are manangeable for visitors and relatively convenient for residents as well. Then they need to make a deliberate effort to get stations south of downtown as well.

  8. […] As we reported last week, Puget Sound Bike Share is on track for a late summer launch utilizing a new partnership between Alta Bicycle Share, 8D Technologies and a “well-known global manufacturer” of bike share bikes. […]

  9. […] for the maker of the most popular model of bike share equipment at the time, PSBS and Alta announce a different supply chain. Public outreach for station locations begins in […]

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