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Portland’s bike share plan gives major leeway to private operator

Portland’s bike share plan gives major leeway to private operator

Day on a bike in DC-41

A victim of success: A major challenge bike-sharing systems face is refilling stations when they run out of bikes. Portland will leave it up to its contractor to decide how often this happens.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Chalk up another way Portland is thinking outside the box on bike sharing, for better or worse: it’s giving an unusual amount of independence to its system’s operator.

This post came out of a three-month effort to vet Portland’s bike sharing plan with experts around the country.

For example, if Motivate (the private company that will operate the Biketown system) decides to leave a little-used bike share station empty for hours at a time after the system’s July launch, there’s nothing to say they can’t.

Instead, the city’s unusual bike share deal will encourage Motivate to operate very much like a private business, focusing most of its resources on the most-used (and therefore most profitable) stations.

That’s one insight gleaned from a BikePortland review of Biketown’s early operating documents. Over the last three months — as we’ve watched Seattle’s underperforming bike share system barely survive a public bailout — BikePortland has shared and discussed the system’s contract with independent bike-sharing experts around the country to anticipate anything that might go wrong here.

On the issue of the empty stations, the city’s reasoning stems from one of the unusual terms in Portland’s deal with its contractor, Motivate: if the first three years go badly, Motivate will have to cover the losses. And if those years go well, Motivate will get 60 percent of any annual profits over $1 million, and the city will get the other 40 percent.

“Motivate is intrinsically motivated by the structure of our contract to provide a high level of service to all customers,” said Steve Hoyt-McBeth, the bike share project manager for the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “If people are happy, they’re going to be using Motivate.”

Contract will reward Motivate for focusing service on its most profitable stations

citi bike truck

Like New York’s Citi Bike and most such systems, Portland’s Biketown will use trucks to keep bike share stations relatively balanced through the day.
(Photo: Juan Monroy)

Portland’s bike sharing system already operates very much like a private business: Aside from $2 million of federal money used for its startup cost and the permission to store its bikes on public space, its ongoing operation will be unsubsidized by taxpayers.

So in some sense, it might be unreasonable to expect the system to operate much differently than a private business would. The terms of Portland’s deal with Motivate reflect that.

In many North American bike sharing systems, it’s governments (and by extension, taxpayers) that take on the financial risk (and, theoretically, the reward) of a bike sharing system. In the hopes of ensuring that money is being well spent by the private companies they hire to operate their bike sharing systems, cities often insert “service level agreements” (known in the industry as SLAs) into their contracts.

The operators of Capital Bikeshare are only allowed to let any bike share station be 100 percent full or 100 percent empty for up to three hours, maximum.

In Washington D.C., for example, the operators of Capital Bikeshare are only allowed to let any bike share station be 100 percent full or 100 percent empty for up to three hours, maximum.

Portland’s contract with Motivate doesn’t include any such minimum requirements for most stations.

City staff say they aren’t necessary. If Motivate can’t figure out how to make bike sharing work for users, then it’ll suffer the losses itself, so there’s no need for the city to micromanage operations. Indeed, by giving Motivate leeway to run its own system and set its own internal standards, the entire system will be able to operate more efficiently and potentially keep its prices lower.

“Just because you have these service level agreements doesn’t translate into better service,” said Hoyt-McBeth. “As opposed to sitting down with your checklist and going through 10 or 20 of these checks every day, let’s make sure we have a system that operates well for the consumer.”

Paul DeMaio, a bikesharing consultant based in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday that “efficient” operation of a bike sharing system means sometimes letting the least-used stations sit empty.

“The busiest stations, that are the most profitable, will get the best service, and those that are the least well-used stations will get the least service,” DeMaio said. “It’s not just profit-driven; it’s customer-driven.”

DeMaio said he knows and respects the City of Portland’s bike sharing staff and that he is “not necessarily against what they’re doing.” But “I think you can draw a conclusion about what that will mean if you live in a neighborhood that has the least well-used stations,” he said.






Minnesota bike sharing executive: Focusing on busiest stations creates an equitable system

Nice Ride MN-13

A user of Nice Ride, the seven-year-old bike sharing system in the Twin Cities.
(Photo: Chris)

Bill Dossett, executive director of the Nice Ride bike sharing system in Minneapolis-St. Paul and the former president of the North American Bicycle Sharing Association, said most of North America’s nonprofit bike share systems (like his) have contracts similar to Biketown’s. Their only penalty for leaving stations empty is that if they lose customers, they lose money.

He thinks this system works well.

“We won’t get sponsorship if we’re not making a positive impact,” Dossett said.

But Dossett said these incentives lead to less rebalancing efforts on stations that are used less.

“If the typical number of rentals from that very-low-use station is 10 and the typical number of rentals from the busy station is 500 … if I let them go for an hour, the chances that somebody is disappointed at the busy station is much much higher,” Dossett said.

But Dossett said he thinks there are more important values to operating an equitable system than making sure there is always a bike at stations in lower-usage neighborhoods — even if one of those neighborhoods is North Minneapolis, a historically black and lower-income part of town on one edge of the Nice Ride service area.

“If you want to look at equity, you want to do the best job for your system that you can across the board.”
— Bill Dossett, Nice Ride MN

“Anybody who says that people who live in North Minneapolis are only riding bicycles around North Minneapolis is wrong,” Dossett said. “If you want to look at equity, you want to do the best job for your system that you can across the board, based on great customer service.”

Hoyt-McBeth, himself a longtime NABSA board member, said Portland doesn’t have any closer-in neighborhoods where most residents are poor. The parts of the Biketown service area with the most low-income residents are in and around downtown, which also has many wealthier residents.

That means that less service to less-used bike sharing stations isn’t the same as less service for poorer neighborhoods.

“That may be the geography in other cities where there’s large areas with concentrations of poverty,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “In our case, in our service area that we’re starting with here, our lowest-income Census tracts are in areas of projected high demand for bike share.”

City can issue financial penalties if Motivate misses other targets

empty bike share

An empty bike sharing kiosk in Washington, D.C.
(Photo: Amara U)

Motivate, for its part, says the profit/loss motive will reward it for keeping Biketown stations balanced.

“Our incentive is to provide great service all-around since we want to grow membership and make the program successful across the board,” spokeswoman Dani Simons said in an email Tuesday.

And the city will have some measures for direct oversight. For example, Biketown stations that have “kiosks” — towers with maps, screens and credit-card readers — will all guarantee bikes available during the morning and evening rush hours. In a sense, these heavily used stations will resemble TriMet’s “frequent service” bus lines.

Another standard: Motivate’s contract requires it to have no fewer than 10 percent of its 1,000 bikes in each “quadrant” of the system at any given time.

Finally, the contract requires Motivate to “increase the probability” that stations never sit empty, but doesn’t set hard targets.

If Motivate fails to meet any of these standards, it’s required to prepare a “mutually-agreed upon corrective action plan within” to improve. But there’s no requirement in the contract that the plan lead to actual improvement.

City spokesman Dylan Rivera said the city and Motivate will find a way to provide quality service throughout their service area.

“The city strongly believes in providing high-quality, accessible service throughout the service area,” he said. “We’re committed to that; we believe Motivate is committed to that.”

Motivate’s business projections, originally due this week, won’t be done for a month

Portland bike share launch-8.jpg

Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat and other officials at Nike’s sponsorship announcement of Biketown Jan. 7.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

In the end, Motivate’s motivation will mostly come down to one number: $187 per bike per month.

That’s how much money it’ll get paid for operating the system, according to the city contract. If the Biketown system can’t generate that much money — it’s about $2.2 million a year — Motivate will have to eat the difference.

We were curious about exactly how Motivate plans to bring that money in, so we asked for a copy of Biketown’s internal business projections. After charging us a $60 fee for the public record request — something the city has never done before in BikePortland’s 10 years of publication — the city sent us the only such record they had: a rough, out-of-date estimate that Motivate prepared for the city’s earlier plan for a 600-bike system. The city hastened to add that those figures had never been approved by city staff, and that under the terms of their contract, Motivate would be providing a fuller, up-to-date business plan before launch.

So we checked the contract to see when that business plan would be due. As it happened, the business plan was due 180 days after council approval — in other words, Monday.

On Monday, city spokesman Rivera said Motivate’s business plan won’t be done for a while yet, “potentially the end of April.”

“The past few months the team has been very focused on our public outreach process,” Rivera explained.

Hoyt-McBeth said Motivate isn’t in violation of its contract because (using other terms of the contract) the city has excused them from the original deadline. He said the additional delay was due to the increased complication of launching a larger, better system thanks to the Nike sponsorship announced in January. He added that this delay will have “no impact on when we launch the system.”

The launch is currently set for July.

Essentially, city doesn’t have a problem with the delay in getting a detailed business plan for the same reason it doesn’t have a problem with the lack of explicit rules about empty stations: if Motivate makes a mistake, Motivate will be financially punished for it.

“Because of the city’s protections in our contract, the operational risk is mainly a concern for Motivate, not the city,” Rivera said.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Could Pronto’s problems come to Portland? Here’s what experts say

Could Pronto’s problems come to Portland? Here’s what experts say

Pronto bikeshare @king st station

Not ridden enough, but why?
(Photo: Diane Yee)

As we mentioned in this week’s news roundup, Seattle’s 16-month-old bike sharing system is in a very tight spot.

With the Pronto system taking in only 68 percent of the money required to meet its operating costs last year and the city considering taking it over in order to bail it out, many Portlanders are rightly wondering whether the upcoming Biketown system (which will be operated by the same company, Motivate) could face similar problems.

We talked to some of the country’s leading independent bike-share experts today to get their take. Here’s what we heard.

Seattle’s #1 problem is low ridership per bike

This is maybe the single most important number for all vehicle-sharing systems.

“You get your really high-performing systems like New York or Chicago that have like five trips per day,” said Phil Goff, a Boston-based senior associate for Alta Planning + Design who specializes in bike sharing feasibility studies. “And then there are some pretty high performing systems in the 2 to 3 range like Salt Lake City or Boston.”

Seattle averaged only 0.8 rides per bike in its first year.

“It sounds like the ridership projections were off, which happens,” said Paul DeMaio, a bike sharing consultant with Virginia-based Metrobike LLC. “If revenues are off, as it sounds like they were, then obviously it impacts the sustainability of the business.”

If Seattle had anticipated ridership that low, it wouldn’t necessarily be a problem.

“It’s not microscopically low,” said Goff. “There are other cities that are roughly within the one trip per day per bike range.” He mentioned Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Columbus, Ohio.

But Seattle, where biking in general is certainly more popular than in Chattanooga or Columbus (as well as Salt Lake City, Boston, New York and Chicago, for that matter), did anticipate higher ridership. Which is why…

Pronto launched with a bunch of loans

This is the first major difference between Seattle’s system and Portland’s. Alaska Airlines put up a lead sponsorship worth $1,000 per bike per year for 2014 through 2019 — $2.5 million total — but that and the city’s public start-up funds didn’t turn out to be enough to launch the system.

So the nonprofit that manages Pronto, Puget Sound Bike Share, took out loans to cover the difference. Last year, debt payments added up to almost $300,000, 15 percent of the system’s operating costs. Next year they’re on track to hit $500,000, according to a presentation being prepared for Seattle’s city council meeting Tuesday.

Biketown is starting from a much healthier place. Portland’s $10 million title sponsorship from Nike is four times the value of Seattle’s sponsorship — $2,000 per bike per year after accounting for the fact that Portland will launch with 1,000 bikes rather than Seattle’s 500.

Moreover, Biketown’s up-front costs per bike will be lower than Seattle’s because its “smart bike” system (which puts the computer on the bike rather than in the kiosk) saves a lot of money on station purchasing and installation.

Seattle has three major ridership challenges compared to other U.S. systems
yesler bike lake

My personal worst urban bike lane experience ever: Yesler Way in Seattle, August 2014.
(Image: Google Street View)

Here they are, probably in descending order of importance:

1) Huge hills in the middle of the service area
2) A system with two hubs instead of one
3) A mandatory helmet law

Portland faces none of these challenges.

Our inclines (for example, the climbs to Portland State University or the Mississippi District) aren’t nothing, but they’re not much compared to First Hill or Capitol Hill. Knowing this, Pronto launched with seven gears on its bikes instead of the usual three. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely not enough to get me pedaling up Yesler on a 50-pound bike.

Another Seattle issue: the decision to put 11 of its 54 stations in the University of Washington area. A study last year concluded that station density per square mile is essential to maximizing bike share ridership. Seattle’s system spread itself thinly over five square miles rather than concentrating on a single area.


Spreading itself thinly is certainly a risk for Portland; it first planned an eight-square-mile service area for 600 bikes (thinner than Seattle, that is) and now plans a somewhat larger service area for 1,000 bikes. But unlike Seattle, Portland isn’t likely to have two distant hubs; instead, it’ll probably concentrate stations in the downtown and gradually get less dense further out.

The last item is the most interesting, so let’s devote a whole subhed to it.

Helmet laws probably hurt bike sharing

Seattle, which was home to an influential 1989 study of bike helmets that has never been replicated and was repudiated by the federal government in 2013, is one of the few cities in the world where helmets are required for all adult bike users.

Though Seattle’s helmet law isn’t heavily enforced, it’s had several effects. First, it’s obligated cash-strapped Pronto to spend about $80,000 a year offering helmets to its users. Second, it makes people who choose to rent a helmet (for $2 a pop) go through the time-consuming step of finding a properly sized one and adjusting its straps properly. Third, it propagates the idea that bike sharing (which has yet to be associated with a single fatality anywhere in the United States and actually tends to reduce biking injuries in cities where it operates) is dangerous.

Aside from Seattle (and Vancouver BC, which doesn’t yet have a bike share system but is expecting to launch one) the main home of adult bike-helmet laws is Australia. And, lo and behold, that country’s two bike-sharing systems also perform woefully, with half the per-bike ridership of Pronto.

Because of all these differences between Portland and Seattle, Goff (who certainly has a financial interest in bike sharing’s success, but not in Pronto in particular) said it doesn’t make sense to assume Biketown will have problems just because Pronto is.

“I hope there aren’t people in Portland saying, well, it’s not working so well in Seattle, it might not work down here,” he said.

There might be a silver lining in Seattle’s cloud
First Downtown Protected Bike Lane Opens on Second Avenue

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Transportation Director Scott Kubly.
(Photo: Seattle DOT)

We’ve been rough in this post on Seattle, which is also a city doing a lot of things right. So let’s close on a contrarian note: despite the costs, this might actually turn out to be terrific for Seattle.

Here’s the basic problem with North American bike sharing: Almost all cities have been holding it to some of the standards of public transit — pushing for it to be used by people of all incomes and races, for example — but not giving it the public subsidies that virtually every U.S. public transit system would collapse without.

It’s entirely appropriate to hold a public system to a high standard. But equity goals cost money. And if Seattle’s city council votes tomorrow to subsidize Pronto by buying it out and then follows up with the massive expansion it’s already proposed, that could put Seattle on track to become the first U.S. city that actually uses public money to create a truly great bike share system.

That’s DeMaio’s interesting take.

“Some folks look at it as a takeover, as I think I’ve heard,” the Virginia-based consultant said. “However, this is very similar to what happened in many cities around the country, including in New York, with the private sector starting up subway lines and the lines not being profitable. So in the end the public sector stepped in, combined the lines, made them easier to use, expanded the service and brought back the customers.”

Could that happen? Should it? As always, we’ll be watching.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Bike-share membership with a food-stamp card? Portland hasn’t shut the door

Bike-share membership with a food-stamp card? Portland hasn’t shut the door

trail card

An Oregon Trail card might work as an ID for a
bike share system, even if no charge were made.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Update 1:25 pm: This article was based on a Nov. 2 interview, but we didn’t check with the city again before publishing; we should have. Since Nov. 2, the city has done new research and is also speaking about the issues differently. We’ve changed the headline to reflect that. See the bottom of the post for more information.

Making bike-share systems useful to poorer people has been one of the thorniest problems in North American bike sharing.

One reason is probably that you need a credit or debit card to access most bike-share systems, and almost 20 percent of American households that earn less than $30,000 a year don’t have bank accounts. Another reason, presumably, is that bike share memberships cost upwards of $100 a year or (in Portland’s case) $2.50 per nonmember ride.

Bike sharing systems have tried to offset these problems by creating elaborate systems to allow cash purchases of memberships, or by discounting memberships to as little as $5 a year. The system Portland plans to launch next year is aiming to do both — though such programs have struggled to get more than several dozen eligible people to jump through the hoops and sign up.

If only huge numbers of poor Oregonians had already signed up for debit-type cards and carried them in their wallets everywhere they go.

As of 2014, 19 percent of Portland households use a personalized, government-issued electronic benefit transfer card to claim some sort of food stamp benefit, formally known by the acronym SNAP. Oregon’s food stamp program is one of the best in the nation at getting people to sign up; almost 100 percent of qualifying Oregonians have done so.

So what’s stopping Portland from offering free or deeply discounted bike-share memberships with a food stamp card?

Technical hurdles, but possible solutions

Bike Share passage press conference-4.jpg

Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick at Portland’s bike share announcement in September.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

To be sure, there would be major technical hurdles. Modern bike-share systems rely on credit cards not just to make money but to track users’ identities, so they can be contacted and charged if a bike is lost or damaged.

Oregon’s SNAP program has a name and (usually) an address associated with all its recipients. Elliott McFadden, executive director for the bike share system in Austin, Texas, said in an interview that sharing SNAP recipient data among government agencies or with a city-chartered bike-share company might violate privacy rights. But Steve Hoyt-McBeth, who is overseeing Portland’s bike share contract as the city prepares its system, said there’d be a simple way around that: ask people explicitly to opt in.

“You have an [intergovernmental agreement] with the other agency, whether that’s a university or Human Health Services or Multnomah County, whoever that is, and you just try to provide a portal,” he said in an interview last month. “Once they agree to it … whatever instrument they’re already using, they can continue to use. Student card, EBT card.”

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What about collecting money on a lost or damaged bike? A bike share system couldn’t exactly seize someone’s food stamp benefits if something goes wrong.

But that’s also a risk for cash systems like the one Portland is already planning to use, which will ask people to bring a mobile phone or paper printout to a local convenience store and pay cash there to get their bike-share membership. (Aaron Ritz, who works on a similar program for Philadelphia’s Indego system, said Wednesday that 280 people have bought a cash membership since the April launch, and 52 out of Indego’s 4,215 monthly members currently pay cash.)

In fact, anonymous rentals are already a risk with any credit-card-based system. If you want to trash or steal a bike-share bike, you can do so for the price of an anonymous VISA cash card from the grocery store. (With Portland’s system, theft will also require disabling a bike’s onboard GPS.)

The biggest problem with SNAP-card memberships isn’t that they wouldn’t work – it’s that they might

Bike share ride with Oregon team-1

Oregonians rent bike-share rides at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C.

Hoyt-McBeth, the Portland bike share project manager, said that though the concept of offering bike-share memberships to SNAP households is “really interesting and exciting,” he didn’t expect the city to do so it also carries many challenges.

Even if the technical and policy problems could be solved, he said, a deeper one could arise: basic problem, a SNAP card program might be too successful at getting lots of poor people to use bike sharing.

“We can’t run a system based on people who can’t pay,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “They take that proverbial last bike, and then somebody with their juicy credit card comes up and wants to ride that bike for three hours on the waterfront.”

In North America, bike share systems are funded largely by that second person.

Hoyt-McBeth said Portland is pursuing other options like letting college students use bike sharing, in part because students’ memberships could be bundled into their school fees.

“Students would be a heck of a lot easier than people using SNAP,” he said.

Beyond that, he said, the most important thing Portland is trying to do to serve low-income people is “have a really simple, low-cost fare instrument” — $2.50 per ride.

If the city wants bike share to be helpful to large numbers of poor people, Hoyt-McBeth said, then taxpayers will have to pay for that. And for years, Portland’s city council has set a goal of not spending any local public money on bike share operations.

“We have public goals around financial sustainability and we also have goals around serving the public,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “And depending on what part of the public you’re in, those goals are either in conflict or not.”

Update 1:25 pm: Portland officials said Wednesday that despite the complexities of using food stamp cards as IDs, they have continued to research its feasibility.

“Issues of trying to integrate a food-stamp card are longer-term issues,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “We have not shut the door to that opportunity.”

“As we’ve indicated from the very beginning, we want to make bike share accessible to every person in Portland,” he said. “We are interested in working with people who are SNAP recipients. … There’s a lot to figure out in the technology and the level of partnership.”

“It’s not as simple as saying you just punch anything in and it works,” he said.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org


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Bikesharing deal could be high-tech key to a low-car city

Bikesharing deal could be high-tech key to a low-car city

mobile girls

Open bike-share data and integrated payment systems can add up to something very big.
(Photo: M.Andersen)

The “single, supple mesh of mobility” that the government of Helsinki is hoping to use to “make car ownership pointless” by 2025 may be arising spontaneously and gradually in Portland.

For people reading between the lines, an announcement Tuesday from the North American Bike Share Association could lead to Portland becoming the first U.S. city where a single mobile app will be able to let you plan a trip and buy a ride from a bike share service, transit agency, carsharing company or ride-hailing service.

Even that would still be a far cry from the unified payment and fare system envisioned by Helsinki and by transportation dreamers around the world. That’s the digital key to the city that would be convenient enough to replace car ownership for a large share of the population.

“The holy grail that Tom Miller talked about … is interoperability.”
— Steve Hoyt-McBeth, Portland bike share

But it’s a significant step in that direction — and Portlanders are playing an outsize role in making it happen.

If it works, it’ll be part of a total rethink of urban mobility that’s been happening little by little for years. Instead of assuming that people choose a single mode (car, bike, transit) and use it exlusively, the public and private sectors would both be focusing on helping people choose the best mode for each individual trip they make.

In an interview earlier this month, Portland bike share project manager and NABSA board member Steve Hoyt-McBeth described “interoperability” between bike share and other modes as a “holy grail” that was being discussed by former transportation director Tom Miller back in 2011. It remains “part of the vision of things” as the local bike-sharing system prepares to hire its first general manager, Hoyt-McBeth said.

“In the short term I think we’re just trying to get a system on the ground,” he added.

Open data will make bike-share trip plans as easy as transit
Capital Bikeshare-6

There should be easier ways to do this.

Tuesday’s announcement from NABSA was so dry that it was easy to miss its importance.

“NORTH AMERICAN BIKESHARE SYSTEMS ADOPT OPEN DATA STANDARD” was the headline.

But it’s a very important step for North American bike sharing — as important as the open data standard co-created by TriMet and Google in 2005 has been to public transportation.

There’s currently no way for Google Maps to figure out that a five-minute bike-share ride could shave half an hour from a transit trip.

That’s because the transit data standard, called the General Transit Feed Specification, is what makes it possible to get transit arrival information in third-party apps like Google Maps, PDX Bus, Transit App or RideScout.

Today, if you want to get around on bike share in an unfamiliar city or neighborhood, you need to download a special app for that bike share system, find a station with available bikes, then switch to Google Maps to plan a bike-friendly route, then switch back to the special bike share app to find a station to drop the bike at.

As for actual point-to-point trip planning, good luck. There’s currently no way for Google Maps to figure out that a five-minute bike-share ride could shave half an hour from a transit trip.

Tuesday’s announcement of the new “General Bikeshare Feed Specification” promises to wipe that problem away over the next few years.

The announcement included both Social Bicycles, the company that will provide equipment and software to the Portland bike share system that’s launching next year, and Motivate, the company that will operate that system.

“Social Bicycles is excited to be an early adopter of the new specification,” SoBi CEO Ryan Rzepecki said in a written statement.

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Portland-based mobile startup is driving payment integration
globesherpa cofounders

GlobeSherpa founders Michael Gray and Nat Parker
in 2013.
(Photo: M.Andersen)

The other reason Tuesday’s announcement is exciting has to do with a seemingly unrelated announcement last month by GlobeSherpa, the five-year-old Portland-based company that created TriMet’s mobile tickets app.

GlobeSherpa (which also operates transit ticketing apps in Los Angeles and Phoenix and began service last week on San Francisco’s Muni) announced that the TriMet app would be the nation’s first to partner with a ride-hailing company: TriMet app users will get a button that lets them look up and (eventually) book a Lyft ride.

Here’s why that matters: GlobeSherpa was bought in June by a trip-planning app called RideScout, which was bought last September by Car2go North America. (Car2go, in turn, is owned by Stuttgart-based auto company Daimler.)

RideScout, meanwhile, has close relationships with bike share companies. Also last month, it unveiled a new system that will let people book and unlock a B-Cycle bike-share bike using their RideScout app.

“I live out in Hillsboro, I’m not near the bus stop, I can use the TriMet app to get a carshare, get to the bus station and use that same payment credential, that same application, to then ride the bus.”
— Mac Brown, GlobeSherpa spokesman

In an interview Wednesday, GlobeSherpa spokesman Mac Brown said all of this means that it’s a matter of “resources and time” before a GlobeSherpa app like TriMet’s will be able to let people book car2go, Lyft, and bike share rides using the TriMet app.

“I live out in Hillsboro, I’m not near the bus stop, I can use the TriMet app to get a carshare, get to the bus station and use that same payment credential, that same application, to then ride the bus,” Brown said. “Same with bikeshare, same with rideshare taxi.”

Initially, Brown said, this will happen by “deep linking” to another app. But the companies have the technical capacity and the management buy-in to eventually allow purchases without leaving the TriMet app.

“It gives each entity the ability to acquire new users,” Brown said.

And that’s the key to the whole picture: because GlobeSherpa has (so far) secured exclusive relationships with transit agencies to operate branded mobile apps, it can offer transportation companies like Lyft and SoBi access to the huge user base of public transit riders if they sign on to the integrated platform.

“Transit is the backbone of the city when it comes to transportation,” Brown said.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

Correction 2:50 pm: An earlier version of this post included the wrong word in Brown’s final quote.


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Take a sneak peek at OHSU’s new ‘Go By Bike Share’

Take a sneak peek at OHSU’s new ‘Go By Bike Share’

iwo jima

OHSU Transportation Options Coordinator John Landolfe and Go By Bike owner Kiel Johnson hoist the second bike-share rack into place in the South Waterfront.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Pushing to grow its workforce without pouring precious cash into garage construction, Portland’s largest employer continues to roll out bike-transportation improvements.

Next week, Oregon Health and Science University plans to became the latest major company (following Nike and Intel) to introduce a private bike-sharing system for moving quickly around its campus.

“Basically we just copied what Nike does and made it blue,” said Kiel Johnson, owner of the Go By Bike shop and valet, of the 13-bike, two-station system. His team will operate it.

Like at Nike, OHSU staff and students who sign up to use Go By Bike Share will loop up the serial number of a particular bike and text it to an official number, which will automatically respond with the current combination to the bike’s combination U-lock. This way, the system is able to track who uses each bike, at least most of the time. (Combinations will be changed at least once a month, Johnson said.)

combo lock

Like Nike’s system, this one operates using the Open Bike Initiative sharing system developed by Intel.

For the moment, the system has just two stations: one at the base of the Aerial Tram and OHSU’s Center for Health and Healing, and one at the Collaborative Life Sciences Building at the west landing of Tilikum Crossing. The latter location is also the closest stop for the Orange MAX line and Portland Streetcar’s newly completed A/B Loop.

The stations are about a quarter-mile mile apart, linked by Moody Avenue’s protected bike lane.

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“We’re sort of using these two stations to figure out the system, and if it goes well and is easy for people to use, then we might expand to some other OHSU locations,” Johnson said. “There’s an IT building downtown. There’s a maintenance building in South Waterfront, and a parking lot in South Waterfront too.”

The shared bikes themselves are Civia-brand five-speeds, with internal hub gearing and lights that are activated and charged by wheel rotation. Each is equipped with a front basket.

rack with bikes

The racks are local, too: they’re made by Huntco, OHSU’s main bike rack supplier. Johnson said the arch that advertises the service is modeled after bike racks at ski resorts.

The system’s startup costs are $8,600, Johnson said: $2,500 for the two racks, $400 per bike and $900 for system setup. Johnson said he expected the operating cost to be “around $2,000” a year for maintenance, rebalancing and customer service.

Corporate bike share systems have become popular in recent years. In addition to Nike and Intel, OHSU is following the tracks of companies from Google to General Motors.

This is Johnson’s third foray into bike sharing; the first was at Lewis and Clark College, where he studied economics. The second was a DIY pilot project at his onetime South Waterfront apartment building. (He ended up pulling the plug on the second.)

“The big thing is how do we connect all these workers that want to commute by transit to their final destination?” Johnson said. “I think the city bike share is part of that, and something like this could also be helpful.”


The post Take a sneak peek at OHSU’s new ‘Go By Bike Share’ appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Oregonian video offers closer look at bike share hardware

Oregonian video offers closer look at bike share hardware

The Oregonian has a useful review today of the “fourth-generation” bikes lined up for the bike sharing system that’s set to launch in Portland by next July.

Reporter Elliot Njus got to take the test bike, which is apparently being called “Portland 1,” for a spin across Tilikum Crossing and through downtown. Though like other bike share bikes they’re heavy at 45 pounds, Njus says they shine on “ease of use.”

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“The bike’s driveshaft means there’s no chain to slip or smear grease on clothes,” he writes. “The three-speed grip shifter on the right is smooth, though the gearshift can make a disconcerting snapping sound.”

There’s more. Check it out.

“Ultimately,” Njus concludes, “the program’s success will depend less on the bikes and more on whether users can find them when they want them.” True that.


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As city council weighs bike share agreement, three of five votes look certain

As city council weighs bike share agreement, three of five votes look certain

Portland City Council

Portland’s city council: Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, Charlie Hales, Dan Saltzman, Nick Fish.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

A half-hour city council hearing Wednesday on Portland’s proposed bike sharing system raised some questions but, seemingly, few serious concerns.

With a formal vote lined up next week, Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish, along with Mayor Charlie Hales, all spoke warmly about the proposal.

Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman didn’t seem to be raising major objections, though both asked pointed questions: Fritz about safety and Saltzman about money. Saltzman in particular seemed upbeat about the plan. Neither offered a closing comment Wednesday, leaving themselves plenty of room to back away from the deal if they decide to.

“It’s nice sometimes not to be first, and this time we’re going to be 65th.”
— City bike share project manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth

The hearing was significantly less contentious than previous council discussions about bike share, all of which have occurred in the glare of repeated editorials from The Oregonian urging the city not to create such a system. (The latest of those was published Monday.)

This time around, the council seemed less stressed about the concept.

“It’s nice sometimes not to be first, and this time we’re going to be 65th,” city bike share project manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth told the council.

Commissioner Fish, in particular, seemed to be strongly influenced by the success that bike sharing has had in other cities like San Francisco, New York and Chicago. He said he’d seen it in action on family trips around the country.

“Bike share is blowing up in those cities and everybody seems to be on a bike,” Fish said.

Like the other commissioners, Fish also praised the low-risk nature of the deal the city has set up. The city’s contractor, Motivate, will assume all downside risk for the first three years. The city says that even if the system flops and no private sponsors are found, it can scale back the system’s performance standards for the fourth and fifth years that would be required under the terms of a federal grant. That’d prevent any public operating subsidy of the system.

“There’s risk in everything we do,” Fish said. “It seems like this time there’s a modest risk.”

“There’s risk in everything we do. It seems like this time there’s a modest risk.”
— Commissioner Nick Fish on financing bike sharing systems

Novick, laying out the virtues of a bike share system, sounded similar notes. He said that though he hadn’t supported a public subsidy for a convention-center hotel, sending a $2 million federal grant to bike sharing seemed like a “reasonable investment” for a system that would both serve many locals and provide a service that tourists have come to expect.

Hales called the proposed 600-bike system a “Goldilocks” proposal: not to big, not too small, not too fast and not too slow.

“I hear from people saying ‘We’re way behind in Portland and that’s terrible!’” Hales said. “We’re behind, or ahead, or somewhere, because we started it.”

He said that other cities that have been embracing biking amenities are doing so because they’ve seen Portland’s success.

“That has set off a virtuous competition among cities to be green, livable,” he said. “What a problem to have, for cities to be competing with each other to do the right thing. … To those who are wringing their hands saying ‘we’re not a leader’: yes we are, and others are running in our same direction.”

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Commissioner Saltzman asked if the city would be opening itself up to lawsuits. City Active Transportation Manager Margi Bradway said the city’s contract with Motivate protects it from liability. This seemed to satisfy Saltzman on that issue.

“It’s a nice thing to have; it’s not an essential thing to have,” Saltzman said.

Commissioner Fritz raised two main areas of concern: whether bike-share users would be able to get helmets, and what the city’s plan was for keeping people from riding the bikes on downtown sidewalks, which is illegal.

“Downtown is a dangerous place to ride a bike safely,” Fritz said. She said she’d recently met an East Portland resident who told her he’d been biking in a downtown MAX lane, caught his wheel in one of the grooves and badly injured himself.

“Downtown is a dangerous place to ride a bike safely.”
— Commissioner Amanda Fritz on obstacles to good bike sharing

Hoyt-McBeth said the city’s proposed contract with Motivate includes a plan to test helmet vending machines, but that choices are limited because no reliable option seems to be on the market yet. In any case, he said, the system will promote helmet use through its membership channels, offer discounts for helmet purchases, give free helmets to low-income members and pursue partnerships with bike rental shops.

As for downtown sidewalk riding, Hoyt-McBeth said the city will find some way to add messages on the bikes or their docks that tell people not to ride on downtown sidewalks.

Meanwhile on Twitter, various people suggested another way to reduce sidewalk biking.

class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-cards="hidden" data-partner="tweetdeck">

@__P__J @go_by_bike @BikePortland @AmandaFritzRN Safe infrastructure. If you build it, they will use it.

— Nicholas Caleb (@ncaleb) September 16, 2015

A handful of other Portlanders came to testify in support of bike sharing, including a developer who said that commercial real estate tenants rarely ask about auto parking availability these days and are much likelier to ask about bike parking.

Bicycle Transportation Alliance Executive Director Rob Sadowsky spoke in favor, saying his organization would be happy to partner with the city to educate people on safe bike use.

BikeLoudPDX co-chair Ted Buehler said the system seemed small but that he looked forward to inviting visiting friends to use it.

“600 bikes isn’t really a lot to go around,” Buehler said. “Still, it’s a terrific start.”

The most skeptical testifier was Joe Walsh, an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. He echoed Fritz’s concerns about people biking on downtown sidewalks.

“Right now the police aren’t enforcing that,” Walsh said. “It’s the wild west.”

But even Walsh didn’t have a problem with the general idea of bike sharing.

“The program itself sounds really interesting,” he said. “They did it in New York. That’s kind of a good endorsement, because it is a very complex city.”


The post As city council weighs bike share agreement, three of five votes look certain appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Spinlister asks Portlanders where its bike share should go and what they’d pay

Spinlister asks Portlanders where its bike share should go and what they’d pay

spinlister zone

A possible initial service area for Spinlister, included in
its new web survey. The company added that it expects
the zone to grow.

The company planning to bring a private, free-floating bike sharing service to Portland is asking for input.

In a short web survey launched this month, Spinlister asks Portland residents how often they’d expect to rent bikes using the proposed Smart Bikes service, what they’d pay, how far they’d walk to reach the closest bike and what service area they’d like to see.

“We’re not doing this for fun or verification of a system already created to make them feel good,” Spinlister chief marketing officer Andrew Batey said in an email about the survey. “We’re building the platform to allow for variable business rules – which allows us to make fast and systemwide changes to various inputs (price, geo-fence, payment structures, support, etc.).”

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In other words, Portland wouldn’t just be Spinlister’s test market for the launch. The company will keep being able to experiment with its business model after its launch.

“For instance, we expect the zone to grow, but we need to understand the market and usage dynamics before scaling it entirely across Portland at once,” Batey said.

Spinlister’s business model, currently backed by venture capital, is unique. It has said it expects to ship branded bikes to selected Portlanders who would then essentially become owners of their own fleets of smart bikes, with a share of the revenue going back to Spinlister.

Last week, Batey told us that Spinlister could launch in Portland immediately but hasn’t fully staffed up yet as it gathers market information like this. It’s happening as the city simultaneously considers a public bike share system that would use both smart bikes (of a different brand) and fixed stations. Portland City Council will decide tomorrow whether to sign a contract for its system to launch next July.

Spinlister’s survey took me about 10 minutes; after completing it, you can choose to enter in a prize drawing.


The post Spinlister asks Portlanders where its bike share should go and what they’d pay appeared first on BikePortland.org.

What’s the point of bike share? This survey explains it well

What’s the point of bike share? This survey explains it well

Bike share demo-11-10

A bike share demo in Portland, 2011.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

In the last two days, we’ve reported in detail about the new bike-sharing system that Portland finally seems poised to secure next week.

All of these operational details have prompted a lot of discussion around a simple, fundamental question that everybody (including me, when I started reporting on bike sharing four years ago) tends to struggle with. What exactly is the point of bike sharing?

The charts below should help a lot.

This is from a 2011 survey of people who purchased memberships in the Twin Cities’ Nice Ride system. I’ve annotated it with my interpretations, but there’s a lot to see here; feel free to add your own notes in the comments.

If you’d like to learn more, this report includes analysis of this survey and a wealth of other bike-sharing studies.

It gets people who rarely rode bikes to use them more often.

how often ride

It’s mostly useful for trips other than commutes.

not for commuting

definitely not for commuting

It replaces trips of many other modes.

replaces trips of many other modes

It combines with trips of many other modes.

makes transit and walking better

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Its most significant effect is to make public transit better, more useful and more attractive.

What is the main annoyance of getting downtown by public transit? It’s the fact that you can’t quickly get around downtown after it drops you off.

This isn’t the only use of bike sharing, of course. But it’s the single most important problem that bike sharing helps solve, and surveys show it.

enhances public transit

connects transit stations

combines with transit trips

A minority of people ride public transit less after they become bike-share members. This is probably the people who live within the service area; a monthly or annual bike share membership usually costs about one-tenth to one-fifth as much as a transit pass.

makes people use transit more

If it’s a substitute for anything, it’s a subsitute for taxis.

replaces taxis

There seems to be a typo in the category listing here; the question refers to taxis, not buses.

It improves public health.

improves public health

The notion that a bike share system isn’t really for current bike users is hard for a lot of people (me included) to get their heads around. Actually, a lot of bike infrastructure works the same way. It’s not a handout to bike users; it’s a handout to people who aren’t using bikes yet.

The nice thing about that is that when more people start using bikes (or public transit, for that matter), every single one of us wins.


The post What’s the point of bike share? This survey explains it well appeared first on BikePortland.org.

As city preps for public bike share, it weighs rules for a private competitor

As city preps for public bike share, it weighs rules for a private competitor

spinlister parking

Will the bikes keep circulating?
PBOT thinks it’s important that they do.
(Image: Screen grab from Spinlister video)

Fourth in our four-post series about bike sharing in Portland.

Portland’s prospects for a public bike share system are looking as good as they ever have. Three of the city’s five council members said Wednesday that they’re excited to back a bike share deal, and a staffer for a fourth told us the proposal “looks great so far.”

Meanwhile, a different launch still seems to be in the works: a completely private bike-sharing system, a new product scheduled to be tested here in Portland by the peer-to-peer bike rental firm Spinlister.

Active Transportation Manager Margi Bradway alluded to the possibility that the city might use its legal authority over companies doing business in public space — in Spinlister’s case, making money from bikes parked at public bike staples.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Spinlister’s chief marketing officer told BikePortland that he had originally been planning to announce a proposed service area for Spinlister’s forthcoming smart bike service on Wednesday.

“Then I heard that the city was announcing something, and I didn’t want to rain on their parade,” Andrew Batey said. “I’m stoked that they’re finally getting their bike share together.”

Last March, Spinlister predicted a “summer” launch for the service, in which Spinlister would pay for new bicycles with Bluetooth electronics built into their bodies. Spinlister would mail the free bikes to selected Portlanders on request.

Then those Portlanders would release their bikes for any Spinlister member to pick up, use temporarily, and drop anywhere in the service area. Spinlister and the bike’s owner would split the revenue.

With just 12 days left in summer, Batey declined to predict the revised launch date.

“For me it’s not about the date that we roll out,” he said. “If I wanted to roll out tomorrow, I could.”

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Batey said Spinlister has a working prototype of its bikes but hasn’t yet hired all the local staff that might be required for such a service.

Meanwhile, Spinlister’s plans are leaving the city with some interesting questions. In an interview last week, Active Transportation Manager Margi Bradway alluded to the possibility that the city might use its legal authority over companies doing business in public space — in Spinlister’s case, making money from bikes parked at public bike staples — to ensure that the company has some sort of plan for ensuring that the bikes don’t just sit around collecting rust.

A Spinlister image of one of their branded shared bikes, built by Vanmoof and to be owned by individuals.

“If you’re going to operate a bike share system in the public realm, then we want to make sure those bikes are cared for,” city bike share project manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth said Wednesday. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re the de facto rebalancing instrument through our abandoned bike [telephone] line.”

Bradway said that if Spinlister plans to launch, some sort of official plan for keeping the bikes maintained is “a conversation that needs to happen.”

“We don’t have to know their whole business model,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “We just want to know how they’re going to make sure their bikes don’t get abandoned.”

Batey, for his part, said that if a fleet of abandoned bikes “becomes a problem, then we’re going to be the first ones to sit down and resolve it.”

“We’re going to run a pilot,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about it until it becomes an issue, I guess is my standpoint, because I don’t think there will be an issue.”

I asked Bradway if Portland sees Spinlister’s promised bike share system as a competitor or an asset to Portland’s public one.

Both, she said.

“We’ll play a complementary role to each other and there’ll be some overlap or market competition,” Bradway said. She also mentioned that Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat had weighed in. “Leah has said this all the time: More bikes in Portland is a good thing.”

[Disclaimer: Spinlister is a BikePortland advertising partner.


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