The City of Vancouver announced plans to issue a new Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI) for a public bike share (PBS) system. The City’s previously announced partnership with Alta Bike Share and BIXI will be scrapped.
Readers may recall that the Vancouver originally issued a RFEOI back in April of 2011. (According to our math, more than four years have now passed since that first step.) City Council then endorsed a bike share system in July of 2013. Further details on the plans for PBS can be found in our previous post: Whatever happened to bike share in Vancouver? Is it indefinitely on hold? (March 27, 2015). BIXI, the Montreal-based manufacturer of public bike share equipment, filed for bankruptcy on January 20, 2014. To sum up, Vancouver’s Public Bike Share system has been in a state of limbo for a long time. We think that this story is not one of “oops, that didn’t work,” but one of systemic flaws in the municipal government’s systems.
Perhaps this whole situation could be seen as proof of a failure of the fundamental processes of our municipal government’s entire procurement system. Perhaps fiascoes like this one could be avoided in the future if City Hall were to adopt an open, fair and transparent selection process.
Case in point: The first RFEOI was shrouded in secrecy. A total of four firms put forward proposals in the RFEOI, two firms were short listed, and Alta/BIXI was selected. The City never did provide the public much information about the previous bid. The City’s FOI department stonewalled requests for the names of the other companies that participated in the RFEOI. It also refused to release any information on their proposals. Does secrecy in government decision making result in a lack of public scrutiny, and consequently sub-standard decisions? Perhaps.
A number of red flags were raised in the first bike share RFEOI (more details in: Bike share plan up for vote on Tuesday – Is Vancouver getting the best system for money spent? Issues with selection of operator? (July 22, 2013). The most disturbing was the requirement for interested vendors to pre-register and also to attend a mandatory meeting in order to be eligible to participate:
The RFEOI created a number of barriers for interested parties. Any group that wanted to submit a bid had one chance to attend an information meeting on May 4th, 2011 and the organization also had to submit an Applicant’s Attendance form by April 28th, 2011 (is this an emerging pattern in the city? see our Woodward’s space post here). The last day for Inquiries was listed as May 10, 2011 with an original submission deadline for May 17, 2011. However, the deadline was extended to June 6, 2011.
Could the City also publicly open the submitted proposals in a move to increase transparency?
Perhaps one of the most important parts of a Public Bike Share system is to find a private sponsor to help cover costs (for more details see: Will City Council rubber-stamp approvals of multi-million dollar bike lane/share programs? July 23, 2013). Any new system in Vancouver needs to address this shortcoming (no private sponsors were identified in the previously-approved system).
A significant amount of public (i.e., taxpayers’) money has been spent in staff time to scope a PBS system and to make zoning bylaw changes to support bike share stalls. This time and effort should prove to be invaluable in the new RFEOI. There is also an opportunity to extend the system into East Vancouver. Public money has already been spent on outside suppliers; $56,000 was awarded to Sandvault to prototype a helmet vending machine in 2013.
One of the challenges in delivering Public Bike Share in Vancouver is a result of the Province’s mandatory helmet laws. The City also has a bylaw on the books that allows police officers to issue a $100 fine to cyclists who ride without a helmet. Could Council consider repealing this fine? The City’s initial system looked at installing helmet-dispensing machines beside bike docking stations. Helmet laws have created significant barriers in Australian cities such as Melbourne. In Amsterdam, a top-rated cyclist city, helmets are optional.
It might be worth following the Active Transportation Policy Council (ATPC) on the issue of Public Bike Share. The next ATPC meeting that will be open to the public will take place at City Hall at 5:30pm on June 17, 2015. The ATPC has not yet released an agenda for the meeting.
Should the City of Vancouver look at collaborating with other municipalities in Metro Vancouver and make an interoperable PBS system that works throughout the region? Perhaps PBS could be added to urban centres in Burnaby (Metrotown and Brentwood), downtown New Westminster, Surrey Central, Coquiltam and downtown Richmond.
For anyone interested in the big picture, improvements in the City of Vancouver’s procurement processes are #6 on our list of Nine actions to reform our municipal government.
The City’s press release is reproduced below:
City of Vancouver
June 11, 2015
City to seek new partnerships for Public Bike Share System
In the coming weeks, the City of Vancouver will initiate a new procurement process regarding a Public Bike Share Program (PBS). The request will seek bids from proponents to provide, implement and operate a bike share system. This process will provide an opportunity to consider new proponents and new cycling and business technology related to bike share.
The City remains committed to a public bike share program as a healthy transportation option, with many global cities demonstrating how public bike share systems can help extend the reach of transit and walking trips, reduce the need for personal vehicle trips, and further increase cycling ridership.
In April 2011, the City issued a Request for Expressions Of Interest (RFEOI) following which, Alta was selected as preferred proponent. The City had a number of conditions, which included securing sponsorship, securing third party financing and developing an integrated helmet-supply system. During this same timeframe, both Alta and their partner BIXI have undergone major restructuring and corporate change.
As a result of these issues, the City and Motivate (formerly Alta) have not reached agreement and no funds have flowed to the company. Recently, significant evolution and innovation has occurred in public bike share industry, including new proponents, technologies and operating models – through all of which the City of Vancouver expects to achieve significant cost efficiencies.
The City’s goal is to ensure the best possible system is implemented at the best possible value. A public bike share system will add a convenient, comfortable, flexible, and affordable way to cycle in Vancouver. Public bike share aligns with the City’s Transportation 2040 Plan and Greenest City 2020 Action Plan objectives of making cycling a viable, safe, and sustainable transportation option.
The RFEOI will likely appear on the City’s Purchasing site (it’s not listed at the time of this writing):