Bixi bankruptcy will slow, not stop, bike rollout, city says

City and contractor will need to find a new equipment and software maker

tourist capital bikeshare

A tourist in Georgetown gets ready for her ride on Capital Bikeshare, the popular bike rental program in Washington.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Baltimore officials said today that the bankruptcy of Bixi, the Montreal maker of bikesharing equipment, won’t put the brakes on the planned launch of Charm City Bikeshare this summer to serve tourists and downtown residents.

“We saw this coming some time ago,” said Adrienne D. Barnes, spokesman for the city Department of Transportation, referring to Monday’s filing for court protection by Bixi, which is facing more than $50 million in claims. “We made adjustments in our planning to protect us from Bixi’s possible bankruptcy.”

Bixi was slated to be the supplier of Baltimore’s “smart” bikes – plus solar-powered docking stations and software to monitor the whereabouts of the bikes – under its sole-source contract with Alta, a Portland-based planning and logistics firm.

The bankruptcy, however, will require city DOT to amend its contract with Alta “to identify an alternative hardware/equipment partner,” according to Barnes.

July Launch Planned

A system of 250 bikes using about 25 docking stations scattered around the harborfront, stadium district, midtown and Penn Station/Station North is scheduled to start in July. Prior to the Bixi bankruptcy, the city was telling bike enthusiasts that it wanted to deploy the system by May.

Getting a new supplier – especially for the software – could prove problematic based on Alta’s own experience with Bixi.

Until 2012, Bixi’s equipment ran on a software platform developed by 8D Technologies. That’s what Bixi was using when Alta won big bikeshare contracts for New York City and Chicago.

But after an intellectual property dispute with 8D, Bixi went to a different firm to develop replacement software, and the systems launched for New York’s Citibike and Chicago’s Divvy Bike have been plagued by delays and inefficiencies, according to Streetsblog.

While the software has since been updated, the glitches caused a rift between Alta and Bixi, who now are claiming the other owes it millions of dollars.

Priority of the Mayor

Since 2011, the city has been trying to install a bikeshare system that mimics the popular Capital Bikeshare system in Washington, which features 2,500 bikes at over 300 docking stations in the city and surrounding Montgomery, Arlington and Fairfax counties.

In late 2011, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a plan with  B-cycle LLC to launch a bike rental program, but negotiations with the Denver-based company failed.

Last year, the city was awarded a $881,300 grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation to fund about 80% of the start-up costs of “Phase 1” of the system.

Long-term financing for Charm City Bikeshare has not been worked out, according to sources who say the city and Alta hope to attract business sponsors and win grants from non-profits to avoid dipping into taxpayer funds to support the program.

Around the country, bikeshare programs have proven popular with mayors and city planners, but have required sometimes substantial public subsidies.

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  • Matthew Riesner

    For $800,000, the city/state could give away 8,000 Walmart bicycles which would make a bike sharing program unnecessary. Bikes can be bought for $100 and most people could buy one if they want one. The problem is until we can make the infrastructure safe and efficient for bicyclists (not having to share lanes with cars and busses, having a place to store the bike, choosing the path of least resistance for bike routes for going up hills), people will not want to ride a bike. Let’s improve our infrastructure first.

    • Jed Weeks

      They couldn’t do that, because the money is restricted for a bikeshare program.

      But yes, infrastructure is important, which is why people need to come out and support the Downtown Bicycle Network at the Feb 4th, 5:00-7:00pm meeting at Enoch Pratt Central Branch.

      BCDOT has ~$3,000,000 dedicated to bicycle infrastructure this year, and wants to keep or increase that dedicated stream in the coming years.

      • Matthew Riesner

        If we have a system that pushes the liability to the renter (or “sharer” of the bikes) such as a system requiring a deposit or a hold on a credit card for the value of the bike (back to the reason we need to have very cheap bikes), we really don’t need to have specialized software, we simply need to have convenient places pickup and drop off (I found this works in the private bike rental market in many cities). If a bike is not returned in an extended period of time (lets say 10 days), the rider has either their credit card charged or forfeits their deposit for the value of the bicycle.

        • Jed Weeks

          That would eliminate low-income individuals as riders. A lot of the tech is helpful beyond a rental scheme, like gps data that the city can use to better build bike infrastructure.

          Bike theft isn’t a real issue on any of the systems, anyways.

          • Matthew Riesner

            I thought the argument folks were making in support of a bike share is for tourism. Do we want low income tourists? People who live here and need a bike everyday will buy their own. Furthermore, without having the user on the hook financially, who’s job is going to be to retrieve the chopped up shared bikes in East Baltimore backyards with big mean dogs anyway? It will happen.

          • Jed Weeks

            The main argument is not tourism, it’s replacing short trips downtown with bikes instead of cars. Tourism will likely help a lot as well.

            And you can believe what you want about all the bikes getting stolen, but it will be practically a non-issue here, as it is in similar cities to Baltimore.

          • Matthew Riesner

            Jed, I’ve had 4 bikes stolen in 6 years outside of my work downtown. All of the bikes were locked. Thefts WILL be an issue. As far as regular users go, they can buy their own bikes.

          • Jed Weeks

            Are you doing something wrong with your locking?

            Regardless, you are using your anecdotal experience with a personal bicycle as evidence over real systems operating GPS enabled, branded bicycles with non standard parts in cities similar to Baltimore that report little issue with theft.

          • Matthew Riesner

            No… The bikes were locked up… One time the lock was still attached to a railing but no bike. I don’t know if you realize it but Baltimore has a very high rate of crime, including thefts and these bikes will be a target (w/ or w/out GPS, as a bike, as scrap metal, as anything else a junkie can sell)

            If we use bikes with proprietary parts, the cost is going to be prohibitively expensive. GPS devices can easily be removed. The only way to make people care enough about what happens to the bike is to hold them financially liable by either keeping a credit card hold, a cash deposit, or require an impeccable credit history with an iron clad contract. Furthermore, they should have to show proof that they own helmet as well, especially any riders below the age of 16.

          • Jed Weeks

            I guess it just sounds like you have your mind made up on this matter regardless of whatever data might say to the contrary of your contrived opinion.

            I guess when bikeshare comes, we’ll see if you’re right.

          • James Hunt

            Bike theft isn’t a real issue on any of the systems except Paris, where it’s a _really_ big issue. FIFY.

    • Lars Peterson

      8,000 $100 bicycles? You can’t be serious. Bicycles sold new for that price are not worth the steel they are made out of. It would be an enormous waste of money. Nevertheless, 3/4 of them would be in shipping containers bound for Lagos within a month.

  • Mehrdad Majzoobi

    It’s time for cities to consider the low cost and scalable solution that BitLock is offering:

    A bikeshare system implementation with BitLock costs 20 times less than systems similar to BIXI and does not require the chunky and expensive docking stations.

    • John Molino

      Bitlock reminds me of the Zipcar model, which seems to be successful in Baltimore. It makes more sense than the BIXI system.

  • kim trueheart

    One day I hope this administration will select a contractor for its proven capability, past performance and future viability instead of which one promises the highest campaign donations.

  • Gerald Neily

    SCALABLE!!! I’ve just learned how this word from the digital world is equally applicable to analogue Baltimore. The #1 problem with this city’s hyped-up “game changer”, “bet the ranch” subsidy-driven mentality is that it’s not scalable. The same thing that afflicts Bikeshare also afflicts Harbor Point, the Red Line and their ilk. They’re huge, all-or-nothing, front-ended, tip-of-the-iceberg, crapshoot commitments when Baltimore’s problems run deep from one border to the other. Thank you Mehrdad!

    Harbor Point needs to be scalable. Exelon and Beatty have made a commitment. Great! Build their Central Avenue bridge to get to their first phase. Then let the rest be market driven, and let it compete with Central Avenue, Old Town and the rest of Baltimore to feed an overall broadly-based growth.

    The Red Line also needs to be scalable, but that’s impossible under the MTA plan because its disconnected dysfunctional 3.4 mile downtown tunnel represents around half the cost but needs the whole $2.8 billion 14.1 mile line as justification. And the MTA has no more workable plans after that. They’ve given up. Put a fork in them!

    We need workable, incremental, pay-as-you-go, growable, SCALABLE plans that can feed upon themselves instead of grand government schemes.

    • Smiley

      Scalable means something that can be executed once and then re-executed at ever larger scale. It does not mean toe-in-the-water, fear-driven policy. The problem here is not bike share–it’s a proven concept. The problem appears to be that the Mayor Grumpy administration only works with partner entities that are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy or have no competence or experience whatsoever.

      • Gerald Neily

        So a teetering city attracts teetering entities. We execute “once-in-a generation” endeavors for our small hi-rez pretty pixel-dense tourist-zone which are not scalable for re-execution to the teetering city’s full teetering borders. I think we need Usha to write a poem about this.

      • Matthew Riesner

        Is it proven?…can it generate enough funding on it’s own to be autonomous? …maybe even able to pay back its start-up costs? It sounds like none of the bike share programs I have heard of have been able to make enough money to support their own program. If the concept was so successful, the city/state/feds would not have to dump public money into the idea…it would flourish out of the private sector.

  • Tom Gregory

    Without bike friendly infrastructure who in their right mind would peddle in the middle of Baltimore City traffic? Yet I’m told riding a bicycle on Charm City sidewalks is against the law. If so, will the thousands of residents and tourists flocking to use the bike share program be made aware of the law or will they be simply slapped with a ticket when caught? Like the traffic cameras, bike share tickets could be a potential lucrative revenue stream for the mayor and city council..

    • Matthew Riesner

      MD state law requires that all bike riders under the age of 16 wear helmets, Would the program provide helmets? Furthermore, with the precedence that has been set in the state of automobile liability falling on the owner of a car, would the city be held liable for damages caused by the bicycles….I could see this happening… is the city going to require that the user of the bikes to either provide proof liability insurance or purchase it. I think this is going to be a mess no matter what company is contracted and we should just make a city that promotes its own citizens to purchase and maintain their own bikes by giving riders good right-of-ways and secured parking facilities.

      • Paul

        Have you seen the dc bikeshare? It seems to be working very very well. Sure bmore is very different but i still see much more upside than downside to having a similar program here

      • RunningWriting

        The injury rate among Capital Bikeshare users has been miniscule. That’s over a total of several million total bike trips. The last time I heard an update, there hadn’t been a single serious head injury among Capital Bikeshare users. That’s not to say there can’t be a head injury in the future. But three years of experience has shown that bikesharing is relatively safe, at least in the D.C. region. I don’t know if Baltimore will be different. But if they do manage to get the Bixi bikes or something similar, the bikes should be safe. The low center of mass, the slower speeds and the sturdy frames all tend to decrease the accident and injury rates.

        • Matthew Riesner

          No one wants to ride a slow, low to the ground bike on city streets, especially on hills, you may as well walk. Helmets are the law for those under 16 and I could see the city liable for damages / injuries (especially after the lawyer get their hands in the pot) that the ridders of the bikes cause. Maybe instead of a ride share, the city promotes private businesses by creating tax cuts, zoning easing, no/low interest loans, and free licenses to get into the business of renting bikes.

          • Jed Weeks

            You’re wrong though. You’re saying “nobody wants to ride” those bikes, when in fact there are millions of concrete examples proving you wrong.

          • RunningWriting

            No one? Then how do you explain the millions of people who ride them in cities across the country and around the world? Everyone from tourists to commuters, locals running errands and others who want to ride for fun.

  • Paul

    People buying cheap bicycles would not allow tourists coming into penn station to quickly get a bike for temporary use. better bike infrastructure is definitely needed., but i wouldnt let that be a prerequisite for bringing in bike sharing.

  • James Hunt

    Urbanista “me too-ism” at its most silly. Any downtown resident who wants a bike should buy one. A decent, pothole-capable ride can be had starting for $125 at Wal-Mart and for somewhat more at Joes, Light Street, Princeton, etc. As for tourists riding from Penn Station, that’s freakin’ high-larious: between the block-long line of cabs, MTA buses, circulator, and the mostly downhill walk into town, who needs a bike? Anyone who rides in the city knows the three inclines from Fayette north to Chase are a bee-yotch on the heart and lungs for the unprepared, and that’s before taking the fumes and the piss*d off drivers into account. God bless the woman in blue in the picture above, but if she were taking that bike from the harbor to Penn Station, she’d flat line somewhere around Mulberry Street.

  • James Hunt

    Why can’t Baltimore be more like Paris? Maybe when bikeshare comes, we will be …

  • James Hunt

    True. Less car burning in Balto than in the banlieus, though:

    So, to borrow a line from Bill Murray in “Caddyshack,” we got _that_ going for us.

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