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City’s bike sharing program delayed until next year

One seven Chicago bike share rental program rental locations is Ohio Street beach 400 N. Lake Shore Drive. | Tom

One of the seven Chicago bike share and rental program rental locations is at Ohio Street beach, 400 N. Lake Shore Drive. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 9, 2012 6:17AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to make Chicago the nation’s most bike-friendly city has hit a pothole: a bike sharing program that was supposed to offer 3,000 bikes for rental this summer at 300 stations has been put off until next spring.

The delay comes as Inspector General Joe Ferguson continues to investigate a rival bidder’s claim that the bid process was greased for Alta Bicycle Share, an Oregon company that once hired Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein as a consultant.

Problems with Alta’s newly-developed software have also stalled the company’s 10,000-bike rental program in New York City.

Neither complication played any role in the Chicago slowdown, said Transportation Department spokesman Peter Scales.

“Rather than rush to get the bikes on the street … we are looking to launch in the spring so we can ensure that we do this right, and have the infrastructure and planning fully in place so the program is a success from Day One,” Scales said in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.  

“This is a complicated infrastructure project that involves a great deal of planning, engineering and public outreach. We decided it was better to take the extra time to get it right. ... Another benefit is that we will have constructed many more miles of dedicated bike lanes by next spring, which will help to increase participation.”

Alta President Alison Cohen did not return repeated phone calls.

She has her hands full in New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has blamed new software used to keep track of rented bikes and accept rider payments for Alta’s failure to deliver the first 1,000 bikes to Big Apple streets by a July 31 deadline.

“The company that’s managing it changed vendors to have new … software and it just doesn’t work yet,” Bloomberg was quoted as saying recently.

Last spring, the Chicago City Council gave Alta the go-ahead to operate the bike-sharing system until 2027, despite rival Bike Chicago’s mid-March claim to the Sun-Times that the process was “tainted” by Klein’s past ties to the company.

The city issued request for proposals last fall with a quick, 30-day turnaround, attracted only three bidders, then cancelled the bids and issued a second request without releasing the first-round proposals or explaining why they were cancelled.

Bike Chicago owner Josh Squire claims Klein did not disclose his prior relationship with Alta and did not really recuse himself from the selection process as he claimed. He also contends that Bike Chicago’s start-up costs were $7 million lower than Alta’s and that its annual operating costs were $1.6 million less.

On May 7, a $65 million contract to Alta was posted on the Department of Procurement Services website, prompting Squires to file an official protest.

He got a letter back from Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee insisting that the posting was a “mistake” and that the contract had not yet been awarded. Rhee further stated that she could not accept Squire’s protest because the City Council had awarded the contract — not Procurement Services.

On Tuesday, Squire fired off another letter to Rhee demanding that City Hall stop bending over backward to accommodate Alta and award the contract to Bike Chicago.

“They don’t have the software. They don’t have the money. We have both. We can implement this program. They can’t,” he said.

“They’re in default in New York. The fact that they’re going through all this is really puzzling to me. If it were any other company, they’d say, ‘Get your … together or goodbye.’”

Scales countered that Bike Chicago has been making similar demands since they lost, what he called an “open and fairly-executed competitive process” that the city stands behind.

“Alta has a strong history of successfully implementing large-scale bike share programs in major cities around the world. We have full confidence in Alta’s ability to manage and operate this bike-sharing system, which is why they were selected,” he said.

As in New York, Alta’s partner on the Chicago contract is Bixi, owned by Public Bike System, a company with financial backing from the city of Montreal.

Alta will install and operate the system. Bixi will provide the bikes and docking stations using software newly-developed to replace 8D Technologies, a Montreal company that has filed a $26 million lawsuit against Bixi that has the potential to impact the Chicago and New York roll-outs.

Currently, bike sharing in Chicago is a small private venture limited to 100 bikes at six stations at popular tourist destinations including the Museum Campus, Buckingham Fountain, the John Hancock Center, McCormick Place and Navy Pier.

Billed as the “missing link” in Chicago’s mass transit system, the new program is expected to be geared more toward everyday people interested in making short trips by renting a bike at one location and dropping it off at another.

Bicycle enthusiasts would pay $75 for an annual membership and $7 for a daily membership that gives them unlimited rides under 30 minutes. The cost to members will be $1.50-to-$2 for every hour after the initial 30 minutes.

Solar-powered docking stations that resemble gas stations for bikes — complete with advertising panels — would be located a quarter-mile apart near CTA and commuter rail stations and in other high-density areas that enjoy at least two hours of sunlight.

Bikes featuring multiple speeds, front and back lights, a cushioned seat and basket will have sponsorship logos on the fender.

The city expects to use $18 million in federal grants earmarked for reducing air pollution to purchase the bikes and build stations, along with $3 million in matching funds from the city.

The network will then be turned over to Alta for the next five years — with a pair of five-year renewal options — for an annual operating fee. Advertising and sponsorship revenues would go to the city.

The contract will also include bonuses for high usage and strict performance standards — including bike maintenance, snow and graffiti removal and a stipulation that Alta vans roam the city to make certain no station is either full or empty for longer than fifteen minutes.

The system — with 3,000 bikes at 300 stations initially and 4,000 bikes at 400 stations over time — was supposed to launch in an area that stretches from Montrose to 43rd Street and the lakefront to Western then grow north to Devon, south to 63rd and west to California.

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