Should Alta Be Running NYC Bike-Share?

With today’s report in the Daily News that Citi Bike operator Alta Bicycle Share is failing to meet several key performance targets, a short run-down of the current state of bike-share operations in New York City is in order.

What we’ve learned since Citi Bike launched last May is that bike-share works in NYC. It fulfills transportation needs, demand is huge, and people can use it safely in large numbers. Bike-share has tremendous value and could potentially bring a new low-cost, short-distance travel option to many more New Yorkers if it expands beyond the current service area.

The unsettled question is whether the contractors responsible for Citi Bike are cut out to run it in the long term.

One half of this question has already been answered. Bixi, the supplier of the system, had a great bike-share bicycle but messed up royally by ditching their software provider, 8D Technologies. Bixi’s attempts to replace 8D’s platform failed, and Citi Bike performance suffered as a result. When the company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, it created an opening that other suppliers (including 8D) can fill. It’s unclear who will furnish NYC bike-share with equipment and technology in the long run, but it won’t be Bixi.

The other half of the question is whether Alta is the right company to run Citi Bike. The city is understandably displeased with Alta’s performance, with DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg telling the Daily News she wants to see concrete customer service improvements.

Alta was clearly hobbled to some extent by Bixi’s technology failures, but today’s news that the company’s performance on basic maintenance and operations tasks has actually gotten worse over time doesn’t inspire confidence. Alta, for its part, says it is seeking investors to help it through its current difficulties.

Bike-share in New York has exceeded all projections in terms of membership and usage. If Alta can’t capitalize on that momentum, right the ship, and attract investment, maybe someone else can.