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Oregon company to oversee city’s massive bike-sharing program

Artist rendering  new bike stations thwill be constructed  300 locations around city starting summer 2012.

Artist rendering of new bike stations that will be constructed in 300 locations around the city starting in the summer of 2012.

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Updated: April 16, 2012 8:19AM

An Oregon company that last year hired Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s transportation commissioner as a consultant has been chosen to launch a massive program this summer that will offer 3,000 bikes for rental at 300 stations across the city.

Bicycle enthusiasts would pay $60 to $85 for an annual membership that gives them unlimited rides under 30 minutes —even if they ride five times a day, 365 days a year.

The cost to members will be $1.50 to $2 for every hour after the initial 30 minutes. For those who don’t buy a membership, daily rentals will range from $5 to $7 for an unlimited number of rides under 30 minutes.

On Wednesday, Emanuel asked the City Council for authority to begin negotiations with Portland, Oregon-based Alta Bicycle Share, Inc.

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein acknowledged Wednesday that he worked as a consultant for Alta in 2011 after leaving his job as transportation commissioner in Washington D.C.

“I did a very limited engagement to look at their response to the New York City RFP [request for proposals], which I did help them with. Which is why I did recuse myself from the entire bike-sharing RFP” in Chicago, Klein said, pegging his Alta earnings at under $10,000.

“I haven’t been involved at all. That’s the appropriate thing to do. My understanding was, it was a unanimous vote by five people,” including the Transportation Department’s managing deputy commissioner, Scott Kubly, and representatives from the CTA and the city’s Department of Procurement Services.

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 would be geared more toward Chicagoans interested in making short trips by renting a bike at one location and dropping it off at another.

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.

Bikes featuring multiple speeds, chainguards, cushioned seats and baskets 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 for a yet-to-be-negotiated operating fee. Membership, usage, advertising and sponsorship revenues would go to the city. But the contract will also include revenue-sharing bonuses paid to Alta for high usage and strict performance standards — including bike maintenance and graffiti removal.

Kubly said he has no doubt the program will be “one of the most successful in North America” — far beyond former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s dream of duplicating the bike-sharing he saw in Paris.

“We’re looking at each bike being used probably five to seven times a day,” Kubly said.

“What we really want to do is encourage point-to-point, short trips. We don’t want to compete with all-day bike rentals.”

Klein said he views the bike-sharing program as “more of a transit system than anything else” and the missing link for many downtown employees and residents.

“It’s a last-mile connector from transit to somebody’s home or work at very low cost,” the commissioner said.

“Not everybody can afford to have a car or take transit all the time. There are people who are very low-income. This is sort of the great equalizer for all residents of the city, as well as tourists, regardless of their income. We’re gonna fill those [new] lanes with bikes that people don’t even have to purchase.”

In 2007, Daley returned from a trip to Paris determined to duplicate a bike rental program credited with doubling cycling in Paris, only to hit a series of bureaucratic speed bumps.

A request for proposals from bike rental operators attracted only two companies and neither of them met the city’s mandate to operate a program “at low cost or no cost” to taxpayers.

Last summer, a private company finally got the go-ahead to launch a pilot program at six pick-up and nine drop-off locations. The pilot ended on Nov. 1 and resumed March 31.

Emanuel spokesman Tom Alexander said the program, operated by B-Cycle, was “successful” and will continue, but said more stations are needed then the handful up and running.

“What we’ve found is that if you only have a few bikes, the usership is a lot lower. ... You need to get up into the 100-stations range to be successful,” Alexander said.

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