A Delay In Wheel Time

The city kills a long-planned bike-sharing project with no timeline for its return.

Portland city officials have slammed the brakes on plans for a rental bike-sharing system because they couldn't be sure the city wouldn't end up covering losses. They also don't know when they'll try to resurrect the idea.

Commissioner and mayor-elect Sam Adams has been talking for two years about a program that would make hundreds of bikes available in the city for rent.

His model borrowed an idea that's been successful across Europe (The New York Times reported Sunday on one such program in Paris). There, users generally pay per use or by subscription for a monitored rental system.

That differs from Portland's 1994 Yellow Bike project—in which bikes were left around the city for people to ride. That project fell victim to bike theft and vandalism.

The city's request for proposals on the revamped idea elicited responses from Seattle-based Portland Bike Company; Arcata, Calif.-based nonprofit Library Bikes; and international advertising behemoth Clear Channel Outdoor. But then, late last month, Portland's Office of Transportation and Adams' office withdrew the request.

Barbara Gibson, the procurement supervisor who administrated the request, says the city was most concerned with bidders' lack of financial information on what the city imagined as a "cost-neutral" (read: free to the city) project.

"I don't think we were satisfied with the information that came back," says Shoshanah Oppenheim, Adams' senior policy analyst.

Gibson and Oppenheim say the city also wanted to reconsider what it hoped to gain from the project: a transportation system in itself, or a supplement to existing public transportation? A program geared toward tourists or residents?

Certainly, statistics suggest Portland is ripe for the program; an estimated 5 percent of the city's commuting trips are made by bike.

"I'm a bit disappointed because I want bike-sharing to happen," says Jonathan Maus, who edits the blog BikePortland.org. But, he adds, "When it does happen, I want it to be an awesome system, so I'm glad they're not rushing into it."

Adds Karl Rohde, government relations and public-affairs director for the nonprofit Bicycle Transportation Alliance: "I just think they ran into some problems…. I'm confident that we'll still get it."

Oppenheim says Portland will eventually get bike-sharing and will put out another request for proposals, but she could offer no ETA.


Next month, Washington, D.C., is expected to become the first U.S. city to implement a European-style bike-sharing system.