Portland is again considering whether to bring a bike-sharing program to town.

Last year, city officials abandoned the idea (see "A Delay in Wheel Time," WW, July 16, 2008) when the Bureau of Transportation realized the city would need to cover losses from the project.

But the Transportation Bureau managed by Mayor Sam Adams wants to reconsider the idea if it can pencil out. The program would allow users to rent bicycles for short-term trips with credit cards, picking up and dropping off the bikes at automated loading docks citywide.

"It is incumbent for us to find outside funding for this," says Steve Hoyt-McBeth, the Transportation Bureau's project manager for the bike-sharing program. "This time around we hope to stimulate more discussion from policy makers to find a way to pay for it."

Last weekend, city transportation officials held demonstrations to showcase the four relatively new companies being considered to host the project, with plans to bring a recommendation to City Council within a year.

"First we plan to watch Montreal, Denver and the other cities bike sharing is in to see how well they do there," says Dan Bowers, policy program manager at Portland's Transportation Bureau. "We're still working on a way to bring the program to Portland without putting the taxpayers in a compromising position."

While we wait, here's a comparison of the four.

Company: Bixi
Website: bixisystem.com
Been in business since: May 2009
Where it's working: Currently in Montreal and Ottawa; slated for London and Boston in 2010.
What distinguishes it: Ranked 19th in Time magazine's 50 Best Inventions of 2008, Bixi has 3,000 bikes in the boroughs of Montreal, and just announced plans for another 6,000 in London and 2,500 in central Boston. "We have such a good system that we had almost no thefts in Montreal last year," says company spokesman Braunyno Belo. "We know what we're doing."

Company: The Bike Share Group
Website: Under construction, but will be thebikesharegroup.com
Been in business since: The idea has been under development for two years.
Where it's working: The company is based in Seattle and looking to start the project in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C.
What distinguishes it: Its bicycles are locked in a steel shed, which the company says keeps out both vandals and bad weather. The bike model also has handlebars that fold up for storage. "There's not a lot of sidewalk space and parking in Portland to add all of the big kiosks," says founder Mark Hulscher. "These boxes are compact and can be assembled all over the city."

Company: Portland Bike Share
Website: portlandbicycletours.com
Been in business since: Fall 2008
Where it's working: Portland, as a small, private enterprise.
What distinguishes it: PBS would be provided through the already existing Portland Bicycle Tours. Currently, PBT has 20 bicycles locked up around the city to be rented by its members. Those bikes can be retrieved by text-messaging PBT's owner, Evan Ross, for the combination. "I've already begun doing bike-rental stuff here in town," says Ross. "But I want to create something bigger and better. Portland deserves world-class bicycle access, offered in Portland by Portlanders."

Company: B-cycle
Website: bcycle.com
Been in business since: August 2008
Where it's working: Louisville, Ky.; Denver; and Washington, D.C.
What distinguishes it: The company equips each bicycle with a GPS system, which records information (such as duration, distance traveled and carbon offset) onto cyclists' personal online accounts. "They've created a social application for the bikes," says Jason McDowell, projects and logistics manager at B-cycle. "We can not only use the GPS system to determine which spots in Portland are popular and need more bikes, but you can use it to see how much bicycling your friends are doing and how many calories they've burned."