How to Score a Big City Bike Share Deal

10 City Bike Sharing Networks to Watch

New York City aims to join the city bike sharing wave. This week the Big Apple’s transportation department released details for how it will evaluate proposals from private companies and teams vying to provide a high-tech system for borrowing or renting bikes for short trips, starting around the spring of 2012.

It’s about time: As the city notes in its request for proposal, or RFP, New York’s flat topography, high transit ridership (1.5 billion subway riders annually in 2006), population density, and typical travel distances (67 percent of all trips are less than three miles long) suggest NYC is “ideally suited” for bike sharing.

The city doesn’t specify how many bikes should be in the program. But the RFP does note that the system should be financially self-sustaining, and that preliminary analysis suggests this would require about 10,000 bikes at 600 stations. We wouldn’t expect a system of that scale to roll out all at once. But a system even half that size would place New York’s planned City Bike Share program among the world’s largest public bike sharing networks.

At the end of the day, the transit agency will be looking for sturdy equipment and a strong track record — qualifications and experience count for up to 20 percent of the initial technical evaluation. But the strongest proposals will also show smart use of communication technologies and an option to open up data to third-party app developers down the road.

Here are 10 factors that, according to the RFP, could help teams gain an edge over the competition in bids to set up and operate the Big Apple’s bike sharing system.

1). Show ‘em the Money: For teams or companies that survive an initial technical evaluation and make it onto the agency’s short list, another round of evaluations will put their business model to the test. In this step, the biggest chunk (35 percent) of the score is assigned to the company’s demonstrated financial capability to operate the system. Of course, the city also wants to know how much revenue a given system will add to its coffers, what the proposed levels of investment are for the project, and the value of the services being provided to the public.

2). Take a Card, Any Card: New York’s transportation department expects the bike share system to make it possible for credit cards and smart cards (e.g. student ID cards) to double as membership cards.

3). Light It Up, Automatically: Bicycles in the system must have front and back lights that turn on automatically while the bike is in motion. The city also expects lights to remain illuminated for 90 seconds or more when the rider is stopped.

4). Gotta Have GPS: The city expects bicycles to be equipped with GPS, and asks that proposals include an explanation of how GPS will be used in the system as a whole.

5). Go Mod: Modular is the name of the game for New York’s bike share system. The city is looking for stations to be free-standing, pre-fabricated, modular, with the ability to be set up in a variety of configurations and sizes. Each individual docking station, meanwhile, must have the capacity to lock down if there’s a problem with the bike that belongs there. The idea is to make it “impossible to rent or remove broken bicycles,” while allowing the rest of the station to operate without a hitch.

6). Update Fast and Furiously: How often will supposedly “real-time” information be sent between the bike docking stations and a central computer system for data processing and storage? How frequently will the public website be updated with info about bike availability? The city wants to know.

7). Hand Over the Data: The city expects all data from the bike share system to be the property of New York’s transportation department, with a central computer system saving all records in a searchable database.

8). Forget Flash: The city is looking for proposals to make a single website accessible from desktop computers, smartphones, cell phones using browsers, and other handheld devices. The request for proposals states explicitly that “Flash should not be used.”

9). Welcome App Developers: The winning bidder for New York’s bike sharing system should be prepared to open up data, such as the number of bikes available at a particular station at any given time, to third-party app developers. The city says in its request for proposals that, “At the transportation department’s request, the Contractor will work with independent ‘app’ developers,” and/or share system information for creating mobile applications.

10). Flaunt Communication Skillz: New York City’s evaluation committee will be looking for detailed descriptions and diagrams of proposed central computer systems, including all network, processing and data storage elements. Information should flow between the central computer system, computers on the stations and docks, and the bicycles themselves. The city wants to know how that will happen, whether via secure wifi, hardwire, or some other connection.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user sillygwailo.


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