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Company with ties to mayoral aide wins another contract

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: May 22, 2013 6:32AM

An Oregon company where Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s transportation commissioner once worked as a consultant has been awarded another contract — this time $1.3 million to help convince Chicagoans to stop driving solo.

The contract calls for Alta Planning & Design to work in five neighborhoods over the next four years to “inform Chicagoans of transportation options beyond cars,” said Transportation Department spokesman Peter Scales.

“We will provide detailed travel information to up to 7,500 households in each community,” beginning this fall in Bronzeville, Scales wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Other sources said the “individualized marketing” campaign would use social media, appearances at community and condo association meetings and old fashioned door-knocking to outline alternatives that help people “switch from driving alone.”

Scales stressed that the $1.3 million contract was the result of a “competitively-bid RFP process” and is “entirely separate” from the $65 million contract awarded to sister company Alta Bicycle Share to operate a bike sharing program promised for last summer that has yet to make its Chicago debut.

“We have made great progress with the system planning and logistics and will soon announce the brand name and bike design. We plan to launch the system later this spring and will issue the launch date soon,” Scales wrote.

Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, was more specific.

He said the Chicago bike-sharing program would start selling memberships in May and launch slowly — with 750 of the planned, 3,000 bikes — just in time for Bike-to-Work Week in mid-June.

“I’ve been told the bikes are being built as we speak. They’re doing a final pass-through to check with aldermen about the final location for the docking stations,” Burke said.

Eight months ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the program that was supposed to offer 3,000 bikes for rental at 300 stations last summer and grow to 4,000 bikes over time had been put off until spring.

The delay came as Inspector General Joe Ferguson continued to investigate a rival bidder’s claim that the bid process was greased for Alta, a Portland company that once hired Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein as a consultant.

At the time, problems with Alta’s newly-developed software to keep track of rented bikes and accept rider payments had also stalled the company’s 10,000-bike rental program in New York City. The New York program just recently launched.

“I honestly don’t know to what extent the investigation delayed things,” Burke said.

“What I do know is it was primarily all of the hoops that had to be jumped through. This is a massive new program. You’re not just talking about building the bikes and docking stations. You have to figure out where they go.”

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

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

Bike Chicago owner Josh Squire claimed that Klein did not disclose his prior relationship with Alta and did not really recuse himself from the selection process as he claimed. He further contended 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.

Scales has insisted that Alta came out on top after 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 has said.

How does Squire feel, now that the long-stalled Chicago bike-sharing program is about to get rolling?

“There’s nothing I can do about it. I filed a protest. All of the information is in there. But I’d like to see bike-sharing happen in Chicago — no matter who does it. It’s good for Chicago,” he said.

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.

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 will 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 — will 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 will 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 15 minutes.

The system was initially expected 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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