At bike share event, City begins crucial search for sponsors

At bike share event, City begins crucial search for sponsors

Mia Birk at bike share event

Mia Birk made the pitch for bike share
at the Porltand Art Museum last night.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

At the Portland Art Museum last night, high society donors mixed with corporate bigwigs and local bike industry luminaries. While PAM got in a few words about their upcoming major exhibition of Cyclepedia (opens June 8th), the main reason for the gathering was to wine-and-dine potential sponsors of the forthcoming Portland Bike Share system.

While the event put a shine on bike share in hopes to woo sponsors, it underscored an urgent need to raise money. So far the system only has $1.8 million in the bank thanks to a federal grant. However, the estimate to fully launch (750 bikes) and operate the system in the first year is $6.6 million ($4.7 million to get the system on the street and $1.9 million in operating costs). That leaves a significant funding gap that PBOT and Alta need to close. Given that the goal is to launch a complete system, rather than trickle out bikes and stations in phases, the City would prefer to wait until all that sponsorship money is in hand before moving forward.

“I look forward to being a customer of Portland bike share.”
— Mayor Charlie Hales

A sponsorship packet passed out at last night’s event said sponsorship would come with $2.9 million in annual media value for a title sponsor (based in part on an estimated 3.8 million daily impressions plus 8,500 daily social media impressions). They’re looking for “title” and “presenting” sponsors to commit to five year agreements for $1.25 million and $500,000 per year respectively. They also hope to find three-year “station sponsors” at $10,000 per year.

This gap between funding needs and fundraising progress has Alta Bicycle Share Inc. (the chosen contractor on the project) and the City now saying we should expect the system to launch in spring of 2014 — not this spring as has been previously advertised. That’s a conservative estimate meant to dial back expectations given that no sponsorship money has been raised yet. Dan Bower, manager of PBOT’s Active Transportation Division, said in a phone call this morning that they need about six months to deploy the system after they raise the $4.9 million.

So, technically, if a major sponsor walked into PBOT’s office with a check tomorrow, he said, Portland Bike Share could be up and running by August.

At the event last night, Alta lined up Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Mayor Charlie Hales to give their strong endorsements to the project. (Former Mayor Sam Adams, who pushed for bike share during his time in office, was also at the event.) Alta’s Mia Birk is the public face for the project and she shared a presentation last night that outlined the potential benefits and value of investing in the system.

Mayor Hales at bike share event

Mayor Hales at the event.

Blumenauer told the crowd that in Washington D.C., Capital Bikeshare (an Alta-managed system) recently celebrated its three millionth ride. “It’s the only mass transit system in the U.S. that fully covers its operating costs,” he pointed out to much applause. He said bike share will be, “An important addition to the livability of downtown,” and that it will, “Add another signature to the Portland experience.”

For his part, simply being present as a booster of bike share, was an important move for Hales. For a new mayor looking to differentiate himself from Sam Adams and be seen as a “back to basics” guy when it comes to transportation, Hales’ strong support for bike share is noteworthy. “I look forward to being a customer of Portland bike share,” he said during his remarks.

When Birk took the stage, it was just like old times. As City bike coordinator in the 1990s, she’s remembered as the woman who won over bike lane leery Portlanders by her sheer energy and enthusiasm. Some of that was on display again last night. “I started as a bike share skeptic, but my mind has been changed,” she said. After showing a Streetfilms on Minnesota’s Nice Ride system, Birk made the pitch. “Strong partnership with businesses is key to success of this program. We need you!”

Birk said they want to raise a minimum of $3 million in private sponsorships. She reminded attendees from the likes of Whole Foods, REI, Umpqua Bank, and others that Citibank paid $41 million for title sponsorship of New York City’s bike share system. Birk’s pitch explained how sponsors will benefit from an association with healthy and active lifestyles, and a vibrant downtown. “Bike share users are great representatives for the system,” she added, “Imagine 750 zooming billboards around popular business districts.”

It’s a pitch that hopefully someone (or two) will take a big swing on. With no chance of City subsidies, the only thing stopping our bike share launch is a lack of sponsorship dollars.

Who will see the light and become sponsor of bike share in America’s most bike-friendly city? Anyone? Anyone?

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