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National association may help Bay Area Bike Share

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Evan DuCharme/S.F. Examiner File Photo
The North American Bike Share Association is working to link bike-share programs in cities across the country and could help the Bay Area program with some recent challenges.

Bay Area Bike Share, the ubiquitous big blue bikes that are visible all over The City, has a problem.

When its hardware and software provider, PBSC Urban Solutions, filed for bankruptcy protection late last year, the bike share's expansion plans to bring more bikes to new neighborhoods and surrounding areas were frozen. Furthermore, Alta Bicycle Share, which under the contract handles business with PBSC Urban Solutions operations and maintenance for the program, is also up for sale, adding to the turmoil.

In such situations dictated by the current contract, “there can be a breakdown in communication,” said Heath Maddox, senior planner and bike-share program manager for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The newly formed North American Bike Share Association, which held its first board meeting Monday, linking bike-share programs in cities across the country, could be instrumental in bridging the gap.

The association, an idea among bike-share authorities a year ago, could serve as a “clearing house” for providing contract models with technology and operations and maintenance companies, sponsorships and data standardization, said Maddox, who represents Bay Area Bike Share on the board.

Bay Area Bike Share currently has no sponsors.

“It's difficult to go out and ask somebody for millions of dollars when you can't even tell them when you will be able to buy equipment and put their name on it,” Maddox explained.

Through membership fees, the association could even hire a lobbyist to push Congress to make more money available to bike shares.

“The Federal Transit Administration gives away billions and billions of dollars to transit agencies,” Maddox said, “And many of us would like to see bike sharing get access to all transit funds just like buses.”

Born from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, of which SFMTA Transportation Director Ed Reiskin is president, the Bike Share Association member meeting drew 150 people and has room to grow.

“Everybody was kind of operating in silos and reinventing the wheel every time they were starting a system,” said Kim Lucas, program manager of Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. “The idea is to pull our collective experiences so that no new system or existing system is forging the path alone.”

The next step for bike shares across the country is to integrate their systems with multiple user interfaces, and Bay Area Bike Share, grounded at the epicenter of technology, “will have a very loud voice in that process,” said Bike Share Association President Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride Minnesota.

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