Capital Bikeshare expansion hindered by bankruptcy of Montreal-based bike vendor


Capital Bikeshare has 1,100 bicycles at over 110 stations across Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

After three years of rapid growth, Washington’s acclaimed bike-share program is coming to a standstill — at least temporarily.

Capital Bikeshare’s expansion to College Park is stalled and new stations planned in the District and Alexandria are delayed, officials say. The reason? The bike network has been unable to purchase new bicycles and docking stations this year since the system’s sole bike equipment provider’s bankruptcy filing.

Day-to-day operations of the popular bike-share program have not been affected, but plans for expansion are on hold. An official with Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates Capital Bikeshare, said Alta is “doing everything we can to get the equipment as soon as possible,” but it was unclear when pur­chases might resume.

Alta’s main equipment and technology supplier, Montreal-based Public Bike System Co., filed for bankruptcy protection in January. Alta officials said Friday that they think a Quebec businessman successfully bid on PBSC and that the deal could soon lead to the resumption of Alta’s relationship with the company.

“Alta is looking forward to meeting with the new owners and discussing the path moving forward,” officials said in a statement Friday.

Interactive graphic

Find out how Capital Bikeshare has grown.

In the meantime, bike-share systems across the country have reported setbacks in the aftermath of the vendor’s bankruptcy filing. In Washington, equipment ordered last year has not arrived, and orders for new stations to be installed this spring have not gone through.

“It is impacting our ability to order new equipment, which we want to do,” said D.C. transportation planner Jim Sebastian. “There are potential problems down the road if this doesn’t get straightened out.”

Alta — which operates bike-sharing programs across the country, including in Boston, New York and Chicago — said it hopes to continue its relationship with PBSC, until recently the Portland, Ore.-based company’s only bike equipment vendor.

After the bankruptcy filing, Alta joined forces with another vendor that could provide supplies to Capital Bikeshare, said Mia Birk, Alta’s co-founder and vice president. She said Capital Bikeshare will have the option to continue purchasing from PBSC if the company remains intact or under a different owner. In buying from another vendor, Capital Bikeshare will have to consider that the bicycles and equipment would be slightly different in style, she said.

“We are frustrated, too,” Birk said. “It is extremely disappointing for all of us.”

Capital Bikeshare is a joint program of the District, Alexandria, and Arlington and Montgomery counties. The three-year-old bike-rental network has more than 300 stations system­wide and about 24,000 annual and monthly members. It has passed the mark of 5 million trips and is one of the most successful such systems in the country.

College Park was set to join the bike network this spring, but the city is waiting for a resolution with PBSC before it finalizes a contract with Alta, city officials said. The city and the University of Maryland plan to launch Capital Bikeshare with 10 stations, funded with a state grant.

In the District, where Capital Bikeshare operates nearly 200 stations, an order sent in February for 40 new stations and 400 new bicycles is on hold. The eight stations and 71 bikes Alexandria ordered in August have not arrived. Montgomery has a back order for two stations.

Officials in the District, Arlington and Montgomery say they have equipment in a warehouse to get a few new stations going. D.C. officials said they were counting on the new order to expand the network to all wards in the city.

Sebastian said the city was planning this spring to install the 40 new stations, many of them in spots downtown where demand continues to rise.

“It is already spring, and we don’t have them,” Sebastian said. “Right now, it is just up in the air.”

Alexandria, which joined Capital Bikeshare in 2012, has eight stations in Old Town but plans to double the number by adding stations in the Carlyle and Del Rey areas. In August, the city placed its order for the eight new stations and 71 bicycles. The plan was to have them installed in February. Now the city hopes to have the new stations in place this spring, but it has no date for when the order will arrive.

By summer, Alexandria plans to make another order of up to 16 more stations, said Carrie Sanders, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

“We are optimistic that it will work out and we will be able to expand,” she said.

But it could be the summer before the region gets new equipment. It generally takes two to four months for an order to arrive, officials say. The delay could cost Capital Bikeshare potential growth in membership this spring, the season when use of the system surges and membership picks up. Still, area transportation officials say they are optimistic.

“This is just a small hiccup,” said Chris Hamilton, Arlington’s commuter services chief. “The jurisdictions have confidence that we can ride this out in the next few weeks and will have a great season.”

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Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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