Bixi bankruptcy will slow, not stop, bike rollout, city says
City and contractor will need to find a new equipment and software maker
Above: A tourist in Georgetown gets ready for her ride on Capital Bikeshare, the popular bike rental program in Washington.
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.