New Life for CitiBike (and the bikeshare industry)

The recent sale of Alta Planning to Bikeshare Holdings is a welcome development for not only the users of New York’s CitiBike, but for fans of bikeshare across the U.S.  In fact, this purchase may well save the U.S. bikeshare industry as we know it.

In addition to NYC’s CitiBike, the citizens of Boston, Washington D.C, Chattanooga and other cities where Alta bikeshare programs have been established can look forward to a vast improvement in the current systems as well as finally seeing long-promised expansion. All this improvement will come as a result of finally bringing two critical resources to these programs that every successful business needs – capital and effective management.

If this seems a harsh indictment of the previous owners of these bikeshare systems it is fully intended. Frankly put, Alta Planning never had the capital or the management to bring bikeshare to a position of financial viability. And the city administrations across the U.S. who continued to award contracts to them owe their citizens some answers.

But instead of dwelling on the litany of errors that plagued Alta managed programs, let’s instead applaud Bikeshare Holdings for believing that bikeshare is a viable industry with an important role to occupy in the transportation mix of our cities. With their professional management and deep pockets they will ensure that not only will the current systems continue to operate, but they will expand to serve a greater cross section of residents and will, hopefully, be joined by new systems in many cities.

The first publicly announced decision by the new owners is telling: the appointment of Jay Walder as CEO. If there’s anyone who can bring order to a complex transportation system it is Mr. Walder, the former head of New York’s MTA. It is also telling that Citibank, who had turned down Alta when they came asking for expansion money, has jumped right back in with a huge commitment to expansion. The message here is clear: the concept was sound, the execution was dreadful. Now with professional management, Citibank has given its ringing endorsement.

New Yorkers, who have enthusiastically supported the program, should be ecstatic at this development, as should the residents of the other cities with Alta systems. But perhaps none more than the citizens of bike crazy Portland, OR who saw their system hopelessly delayed by their hometown darlings, Alta Planning.

Which brings me to my final point: the home team advantage. We at Worksman never gained any fans in the Bloomberg administration because we insisted that they open up and inspect all that baggage Alta schlepped with them into our city – New York City: their total lack of experience in operational P&L management and consumer marketing as well as their complete lack of capital. Not to mention their dependence on a Canadian company (Bixi) who had severe financial troubles (ultimately liquidated) and who was dogged with questions about “irregularities.” Call it “local knowledge” but, as a 116 year old corporate citizen of NYC, we know a few things about operating here and we never liked what we saw or heard from Alta.

But we have always believed in and supported bikeshare. So we are thrilled that NYC, and those other cities, will see their programs live on and flourish because they now have “adult supervision.” So we wish the best of luck to Bikeshare Holdings and Jay Walder. And we also offer our congratulations to the DiBlasio administration who inherited a mess and expertly played a critical role in this transaction which will ensure that CitiBike will fulfill its original promise.

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