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.
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.