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America’s Biggest Bike-Share Operator Now Makes Its Own Bikes

Motivate-Bike-and-Mystery-Man

Ben Serotta assembles one of the first models of Motivate’s new bike. Photo: Motivate

Motivate, the company that runs bike-share systems in several large American cities, is now manufacturing its own bikes.

When the current Motivate management team took over last fall, they inherited two big problems. Most of their systems ran on flawed software that crippled reliability and frustrated riders, and the manufacturer of their bikes had gone bankrupt.

Now both issues have been addressed: Replacement software from 8D Technologies installed this spring has a proven track record in other cities, and the new bikes — designed by Ben Serotta — clear up how the company’s fleets will be expanded and replenished.

The new bikes will be used in the expansion of New York’s Citi Bike starting later this year, in Jersey City’s upcoming bike-share system, and in any future system operated by Motivate. It’s unclear whether the upcoming Bay Area Bike Share expansion will use these bikes, but it seems like a strong possibility. Bike-share docks will be compatible with both the new bikes and the old models made by Bixi.

Motivate_Green_BikeThe new design retains the thick boomerang-shaped frame — the notable differences are in the guts and components of the bike. Gearing has been adjusted so riders don’t spin so much in the low gear. The seats, notorious for cracking and retaining moisture in the current models, got an overhaul. “The construction and material are both supposed to improve wear,” said Serotta, “plus the hole in the middle allows water to drain and not puddle in the middle… and provides a more comfortable, better ventilated ride.” (Nigel Tufnel will be delighted to see that the seat post size now goes to 11.)

In designing the new bikes, Serotta worked in tandem with Motivate’s head mechanics. In a short email interview, he explained that process and how it shaped the end product. Below is a lightly edited version:

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Bay Area Bike Share to Expand to 7,000 Bikes By 2017

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Bay Area Bike Share will expand to a 7,000-bike system over the next two years and venture into Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville. San Francisco’s system will dramatically increase to 4,500 bikes, and San Jose’s will expand to 1,000.

The mayors of all five cities announced the expansion today along with Motivate, the system’s operator (formerly known as Alta), which will enlarge the system tenfold “at no cost to taxpayers.”

Here are the details, according to a Mayor’s Office press release:

Motivate’s proposal includes bringing a total of 850 bikes to Oakland, 400 to Berkeley and 100 to Emeryville, and boosting the number of bikes in San Francisco to 4,500 from the current 328, and the number in San Jose to 1,000 from the current 129. Motivate plans to add 150 more bikes to the Bay Area Bike Share fleet after the four-phase expansion is complete in late 2017. While the locations of these bikes have not been identified, Motivate proposes to keep at least 50 of them in the East Bay.

Supervisor Scott Wiener issued a statement applauding “this proposal to dramatically expand bike share,” as he has pushed for. “A robust and sustainable bike share network is a key part of being a Transit First city and will allow us to reap the benefits of bike share, including reducing traffic, improving public transit, and stimulating the local economy,” he said.

Mayor Ed Lee issued this statement:

When we launched Bay Area Bike Share nearly two years ago, we saw a transformation in the way that residents and visitors moved around the Bay Area with an easy, convenient, affordable and healthy transportation option in our world-class transportation network. The proposed expansion of this popular bike share program will help residents and visitors move around our diverse San Francisco neighborhoods, and around the Bay Area region more easily.

This is the first wave of expansion since new management took over at Alta Bicycle Share and changed the company’s name to Motivate in January.

Motivate also operates bike-share systems in New York, DC, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle.

Streetsblog USA
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Two Key Factors That Can Make or Break a Bike-Share Network

What if you could dramatically increase the usefulness of a bike-share system without adding any bicycles or docks? Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business have come up with a model that they say could help even the most successful bike-share systems in the world get more bang for the buck.

Researchers estimate that even Paris’s much-used Velib bike-share could attract 29 percent more riders by optimizing the location and size of stations. Photo: Wikipedia

The Booth School team focused on two factors: station accessibility (or how long it takes people to get to a station) and bike availability (or having at least one bike to check out at a station). After collecting minute-by-minute ridership data from 349 stations in Paris’s highly successful Velib system over a four-month period, they modeled the effect of these factors on ridership.

Researchers found that decreasing the distance to access stations by 10 percent boosts bike-share trips by about 7 percent, while a 10 percent improvement in bike availability can increase system usage about 12 percent.

Interestingly, given a fixed number of docks and bikes, improving the accessibility of a network can diminish its availability, since the system would have a larger number of stations spaced closer together, but each station would be smaller. The inverse is also true — designing for greater availability can reduce accessibility.

However, networks can be optimized taking both accessibility and availability into account. In the researchers’ model, simply rearranging existing Velib bike-share docks — adjusting the size and location of stations — could attract 29.4 percent more trips.

Streetsblog USA
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Arlington Offers Cash Bike-Share Memberships to the Unbanked

Washington, DC, is 50 percent black, but only 3 percent of Capital Bikeshare members are. As in many cities, the DC bike-share system’s users are disproportionately white, educated, and employed.

Arlington, Virginia, has come up with a way to allow people without credit cards to be bike-share members. But is their solution transferable to other places? Photo: Bike Arlington

As advocates and city officials have tried to make this economical and healthy transportation option more widely accessible, they’ve persistently come across a major obstacle: how to extend bike-share to people without bank accounts or credit cards.

Across the Potomac, Arlington is going to try something new. According to the county’s bike-share management consultant, MetroBike, “Arlington will vouch for its residents, so that they don’t need to provide a credit or debit card.”

This will be a departure from standard practice, where credit or debit cards act as insurance against stolen bikes. In the typical bike-share payment model, if a bike disappears on your watch, your credit card gets charged $1,000. The $7 monthly membership fee Arlington plans to collect in cash at its Arlington County Commuter Services “Commuter Stores” will provide no such guarantee. The county appears to be willing to trust its residents enough to take on this risk.

Arlington is an entirely different beast from DC, though. The county has a median income of $103,000. The low-income population targeted by the cash-payment measure is significantly smaller there than in DC.

DC has developed its own solution to the problem of making bike-share accessible to the unbanked, but it involves signing those people up for bank accounts, not checking out bikes on the honor system.

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Alta Bicycle Share Has New Owners, New CEO, New Expansion Plans

With new ownership and a new CEO, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has even started taking suggestions for bike-share expansion again. Image: DOT

With new ownership from executives at real estate giant Related and a new CEO in former MTA head Jay Walder, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has already started taking suggestions for new bike-share stations. Image: DOT

It’s official: Alta Bicycle Share, the company that runs Citi Bike, has a new owner, an infusion of cash, and a fresh face at the top — longtime transit executive Jay Walder. At a press conference this afternoon, the new team promised to correct Citi Bike’s blunders and double the system’s size by the end of 2017.

The same ownership group will also be running Alta bike-share systems in Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston, among other cities. While today’s news signals potential changes in those cities as well, the most immediate changes — along with Alta Bicycle Share’s headquarters — are coming to New York.

Citi Bike’s reboot has been months in the making. Top executives from Equinox Fitness, itself a division of real estate giant The Related Companies, burst onto the bike-share scene in April with an unsuccessful last-minute bid for Bixi, the bankrupt Canadian supplier of Alta’s bike-share components. Related execs resurfaced in July, when word came that they were on the verge of buying out Alta. After months of negotiations, the deal is now official, with a company backed by Related executives and other investors, called Bikeshare Holdings LLC, acquiring all of Alta Bicycle Share.

Alta is getting a major cash infusion — $30 million from Bikeshare Holdings LLC, which is led by Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak, Related CEO Jeff Blau, and investor Jonathan Schulhof. Citi has extended its initial $41 million, five-year sponsorship of NYC bike-share by promising an additional $70.5 million through 2024, contingent on system expansion. Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, which has already helped finance Citi Bike, is increasing its credit line to Alta by $15 million. The deal includes $5 million from the Partnership Fund for New York City, an investment fund backed by the city’s big business coalition, to expand Citi Bike to more neighborhoods.
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Streetsblog NYC
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Sources: Alta Bike-Share Buyout a Done Deal; NYC Citi Bike Fleet to Double

The REQX purchase of Alta bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The buyout of Alta Bicycle Share rumored since July is finally a done deal. Alta — which operates New York’s Citi Bike, Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare, Chicago’s Divvy, San Francisco’s Bay Area Bike Share, and several other cities’ systems — will be purchased by REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit.

The injection of capital from REQX is expected to help resolve lingering problems with Citi Bike’s supply chain, software system, and operations, which until now have prevented any expansion of the bike-share network.

The sale was reported Friday by Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein, and Streetsblog has confirmation from two people with knowledge of the deal.

Rubinstein reported that REQX plans to double the size of the Citi Bike fleet to 12,000 bikes. Annual membership prices are expected to increase about 50 percent.

New management and an infusion of funds from REQX bodes well for all Alta bike-share programs over the next year after a stagnant 2014. Alta’s supply chain troubles have hampered system expansions in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco, among other cities.

Streetsblog USA
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Alta Chief: Bike-Share Expansions Unlikely in 2014

There was no shortage of Bixi bikes at this 2012 conference, but there is now. Photo: Dylan Passmore/Flickr

Despite continually growing ridership, Alta Bicycle Share-operated bike-share systems across America will probably not be adding bikes or docks this year. The bankruptcy of Montreal-based Public Bike Share Company, known as Bixi, which developed and manufactured the equipment that Alta’s systems use, has disrupted the supply chain that numerous cities were pinning their expansion plans on.

“New bikes probably won’t arrive until 2015,” reports Dan Weissmann at American Public Media’s Marketplace. Alta Bicycle Share’s founder and vice president Mia Birk told Weissman that the last time Alta received new bikes from Bixi “must have been pre-bankruptcy.”

That puts expansion plans for cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC on hold. Just those three cities had previously announced fully-funded plans to add 264 bike-share stations in 2014. New York and Boston are also looking to expand their Alta-run systems. Other bike-share systems that purchase equipment from Bixi, like Nice Ride Minnesota, have had no luck buying new kit this year.

The shortage of equipment also means that cities that had signed up with Alta to launch new bike-share systems — notably Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver — won’t launch until 2015 at the earliest. Ironically, new launches that were planned later, like Seattle’s Pronto system, will proceed sooner, as they were designed with equipment not sourced through Bixi.

The good news is that the troubled supply chain for Alta’s bike-share systems looks like it will be rebooted thanks to an infusion of capital. REQX Ventures, a company from New York City that had bid on Bixi, has been in talks to purchase a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, according to a report in Capital New York. This should inject new resources, allowing the bike-share operator to upgrade buggy software and overcome the hurdles imposed by Bixi’s bankruptcy in time for 2015’s equipment orders.

Streetsblog USA
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Safety in Bike-Share: Why Do Public Bikes Reduce Risk for All Cyclists?

Injuries to all cyclists declined after the launch of bike-share systems in Boston and other cities. Photo: Kelly Kline/Flickr

What if Yankees legend Yogi Berra had followed a season with 24 homers and 144 hits with one featuring 27 homers and 189 hits? Would the baseball scribes have declared “Yogi Power Shortage” because only one in seven hits was a homer instead of one in six? Duh, no. The headlines would have read, “Yogi Boosts Production Across the Board.” The fact that a greater share of base hits was singles and doubles would have been incidental to the fact that Yogi’s base hits and homers were both up.

So how is it that a study that documented drops of 14 percent in the number of cyclist head injuries and 28 percent in total cyclist injuries in U.S. cities with bike-share programs got this headline in the Washington Post last month?

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To be sure, those figures were buried in the study. They saw the light of day, thanks to two posts last month by Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt. So readers know that the Post’s headline should have been: “Cities with bike-share programs see marked decrease in cyclist injuries.”

Simple enough, right? Except that to run the story straight up like that would have required the Post to set aside the unholy trinity atop Americans’ ingrained misperception of cycling safety: the beliefs that helmetless cycling is criminally dangerous; that cycling is inherently risky; and that cyclists, far more than drivers, make it so.

To see why, let’s look further into the research data that made its way into the Post story. The team of researchers, two of whom work at the Harborview Injury and Research Center in Seattle, compared five bike-share cities with five cities that did not implement bike-share programs. The bike-share cities had a total drop in reported cyclist injuries of 28 percent, versus a 2 percent increase in the control cities. The effective difference of 30 percentage points is huge.

The safety improvement in bike-share cities is all the more impressive, since those places likely saw a rise in overall cycling activity that one would expect to lead to an increase in cyclist injuries. But the expected increase in injuries is small when you take into account the safety-in-numbers phenomenon that one of us (Jacobsen) has documented for a decade and counting: You’re safer riding a bike in a community where more people ride bicycles.

Let’s train the safety-in-numbers lens on that 28 percent drop in cyclist injuries in bike-share cities and consider why the injury risk fell instead of increasing:

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SFCTA Report: Expand Bike-Share in San Francisco ASAP

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The SF County Transportation Authority issued a new report Monday to guide the expansion of Bay Area Bike Share, which sees 90 percent of its rides in San Francisco, despite the city encompassing half of the system’s bikes and stations.

Among the recommendations in the “Strategic Analysis Report” [PDF] is giving the SFMTA greater independence to plan and manage bike-share in San Francisco while other Bay Area cities work on their own expansions of the system.

“This SAR makes smart recommendations: embracing a regional system while not waiting to expand in San Francisco,” said Kit Hodge, deputy director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “Now it’s up to the city to really move forward. San Francisco residents and businesses have been very clear in their call from every corner of the city for more bike-share.”

The report notes that SF’s bike-share expansion is crucial to the system as a whole, given the high usage in SF by commuters who live in other areas: “As an indication of the regional demand for bike sharing in San Francisco, Alameda County has the second highest number of memberships in Bay Area Bike Share, even though there are currently no bike sharing stations or bicycles in the East Bay.”

The SFCTA also recommends that Bay Area Bike Share operations, currently overseen by the Bay Area Quality Management Distict, should be re-organized using “a hybrid model where a non-profit associated with or managed by a public agency administers the program and contracts with a private-sector operator.”

Here are the report’s full recommendations on bike-share expansion in San Francisco:

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Why TIME Magazine Got the Bixi Story Wrong

Major media have a habit of blowing bike-share problems out of proportion. Witness the 2009 BBC story that cast theft and vandalism as an existential threat to Velib in Paris. Five years later, Velib is still going strong. The most recent entry in the genre is Christopher Matthews’ misguided story on the Bixi bankruptcy in TIME. Headline: “Why America’s Grand Bike-Sharing Experiment Is Failing.”

There’s a reason that Divvy was fed up with Bixi’s software, but TIME didn’t explain why. Photo: John Greenfield

The main mistake Matthews makes is to conflate Bixi’s troubles with the fate of American bike-share overall:

The question now is whether this is the beginning of the end for the bike-sharing experiments that have spread quickly across the U.S. So far, officials from various bike-sharing programs are saying no.

This is a poor way to frame the issue, for a few reasons. While Bixi is the dominant supplier in the American bike-share market, it is far from the only one. Medium-sized systems in Denver, Miami Beach, and Austin use equipment from other companies, so the Bixi bankruptcy doesn’t affect all U.S. bike-share systems.

The American bike-share operators that do use Bixi equipment will probably have serious logistical challenges on their hands, but there are reasons Matthews couldn’t find a single source to back up his doomsday scenario. Bixi itself relies on subcontractors to make most of its equipment and software. In a worst-case scenario where Bixi is broken up, those firms could be tapped to supply bike-share systems with components that integrate with existing equipment.

Matthews doesn’t mention any of these contingencies. He just keeps making the same unsupported claim:

Bixi hasn’t been able to operate profitably and is now owned by the City of Montreal — which only two years ago approved a whopping $108-million bailout package to keep the company afloat. That may call into question the long-term viability of these programs.

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