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City panel OKs Oregon firm to run bike-sharing program

Mayor Rahm Emanuel City TransportatiCommissioner Gabe Klein. FILE PHOTO. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein. FILE PHOTO. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 15, 2012 8:06AM

An Oregon company that once hired Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s transportation commissioner as a consultant got the go-ahead Friday to offer 4,000 bikes for rental at 400 stations for the next fifteen years, providing the “missing link” in Chicago mass transit.

“I’m just delighted this is happening. My 10-year-old car needed $4,000 worth of repair, and I ditched it. I rely on a bike and Zipcar these days. So, I’m all for it,” said Ald. James Cappleman (46th).

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) added, “We’re paying upwards of $4.50 a gallon right now for gas. The timing couldn’t have been better.”

The City Council’s Committee on Traffic and Pedestrian Safety gave Alta Bicycle Share the go-ahead to operate the bike-sharing system until 2027, despite a rival bidder’s claim that the path was greased, in part, because of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein’s past ties to the company.

“The commissioner completely recused himself from this procurement,” Klein’s managing deputy Scott Kubly said Friday.

“We’re absolutely confident that we ran as fair and robust a procurement process as possible.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that the city issued a 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.

Josh Squire, owner of Bike Chicago, has also charged that Klein did not disclose his prior relationship with Alta and did not really recuse himself from the selection process as he claimed.

On Friday, Kubly said the first request was rescinded, simply because the city had inadvertently neglected to seek federal authorization, as required before the construction phase.

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 everyday Chicagoans 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 will start slowly this year — in an area that stretches from Montrose to 43rd Street and the lakefront to Western. Next year, the program will grow north to Devon, south to 63rd and west to California.

“It leaves a huge swath of the city without the ability to use this,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

“Why should people [who] live in outlying wards support putting [in] a system that you feasibly can’t use.”

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