Public bike hire scheme for Portland, Oregon?

City wants to guage public reaction before proceeding

Civic leaders in Portland, Oregon are considering setting up a public bike hire system. Companies have been invited to demonstrate their schemes at two public events next month.

The idea is that Portland Bureau of Transportation will gauge public reaction at the free events on 14 and 16 August, and take this into consideration when deciding whether or not to go ahead with the scheme.

Portland, which is one of the US’s most bike-friendly cities, has been looking at the possibility of installing such a system for some time but says it is taking things slowly with a view to getting it right first time. 

The Bureau are watching progress in other American cities, such as Minneapolis and Denver, which plan to start bike hire schemes next year, and Washington DC, which is the only US city with a system already operating.

The situation in Portland may be complicated by its success to date in encouraging cycling. With, according to a recent survey, eight percent of commuters already coming into the city by bike and 18 percent of residents using a bike as their primary or secondary mode of transportation, it isn’t clear what the take-up for a hire system might be.

One of the companies demonstrating in Portland will be Bixi, which operates the Montreal bike hire system.“This whole idea about throwing thousands of bikes on the street is new to us in the US," said Steve Hoyt-McBeth of the Bureau of Transportation. "To see what it does in terms of ridership in Montreal and other cities will be really instructive for Portland." European schemes have been checked out as well, and something like 100 systems are being looked at.

Lessons have been learned from their observations to date. You need to have hire stations every four or five blocks. Good marketing and a smooth start to the scheme are important, and a pricing structure that makes hire free or very cheap in the first 30 minutes encourages shorter trips and efficient handover of bikes. Signing up online and waiting for your card in the post prohibits on-the-spot rentals and isn’t helpful to tourists.

“We are conducting this demonstration in part to see if bike sharing is a necessary ingredient for Portland to become a world-class bicycling city,” said Mayor Sam Adams. “Bike sharing is an exciting concept that has shown promise in Europe. But given the expense of these systems, I want Portland to move forward prudently and with as much information as possible.”

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