Government and innovation are not mutually exclusive (no, really). But because the government is spending the public’s money (or leasing/selling its assets), it’s just a bit harder than whipping out a corporate Amex to do some “solutioneering.” Bikesharing is new, and emerging technology and lessons-learned have the potential to take it to even more exciting heights. But Richard Layman argued recently that public bikesharing solicitations were stunting that potential evolution (Why Government contracting processes can really suck: bicycle sharing edition).
Long long ago in a vocational life far far away, I worked as a contract negotiator (save your hardnose-Canadian-oxymoron jokes, please), trying to ensure that the Federal government got the best value for its dollar on airplanes and helicopters (save your $600 hammer jokes, please). I am going to try to apply a bit of knowledge from that world to the complicated task of establishing a municipally-sponsored bikeshare system. They really are not as different as you might imagine.
#1 Revisit your Bicycle Master Plan, and be ruthlessly realistic about your plans. In any major program, it is essential to take a good hard look at the total lifecycle cost of a major change. See Arlington County, VA’s Bikeshare ‘Transit’ Development Plan for the current gold standard of such thorough thinking, though in my ideal world, a draft of that plan would predate the establishment of the system. But total cost is not only the funds necessary to purchase, operate, maintain, and grow your bikeshare system. You must consider the finite staff time it takes to plan and oversee the system, the other planned activities that might be delayed or dropped, and how the rest of the plan itself needs to adapt to the presence of a bikeshare system. If you don’t have a Bicycle Master Plan… Well, let’s just say you should.
#2 Figure out what’s important. So you have passed “Go” and collected your $200. Now it is time to think long and hard about what you have, what you need, what you want, and where you can trade off. Here are some considerations, incomplete, vague, and unordered:
- In general, where do your needs and wants permit tradeoffs between control, cost, and capability?
- How many stations do you want, now and into the future?
- Who will plan and decide on station siting?
- Where are there mismatches between revenue potential and public goods to be served by the system? How can a balance be struck?
- Do you want stations at all, or might a dockless system work for you?
- How will users pay for their use?
- Who will collect revenue, both operating and other sources?
- What is the value of and authority for public space advertising, and will this be a part of the system?
- Will bikesharing interact with other modes (transit, carshare) and programs (TDM, public health, tourism)?
- Who has an interest in your ultimate outcome? Because…
#3 …No bikeshare is an island. Bikesharing is a system, and in any properly functioning system, multiple bits interact with each other. This goes far beyond the bikes and docks. Transit systems, neighboring jurisdictions, landowners, permitting agencies, and utilities are among the many parties who may affect, or are affected by, the choices you make in your bikeshare development strategy. Los Angeles surprised many people with their public-space-permit-based bikeshare system, and the choices made by LA could have implications for the plans of many other regional stakeholders.
#4 Document it for all. Your wants, needs, potential tradeoffs, and (where permitted) your budget, should all be in black and white for all to see. Whether you are looking to establish a system with a minimal outlay of funds, want to get as many bikes on the street as possible for a given amount of money, or are willing to pay a bit more for new capabilities or enhancements, it is essential to lay it all out for potential providers.
#5 Full and open competition is good. Even apparent competition sharpens the pencils, stokes creativity, and provides credibility. When approached by a vendor with a seemingly wonderful proposal, it is always worth asking if there might be someone (or 2, or 3…) others out there willing to do better. Or perhaps your suitor might offer even more knowing that there are one or two or three others out there trying just as hard to provide your bikeshare system. If you put a lot of effort into a well-written requirement that describes exactly what you want and need, do it in a way that does not unnecessarily exclude particular solutions, cast a net far and wide for your provider, and let that net linger in the water for awhile, you will ‘net’ the very best.
#6 If you don’t know, ask an impartial expert. Just to be clear, I’m going to shout the word IMPARTIAL. In the Federally-administered RFP or concession process that I came from (that is, where you are entering into a contract or agreement directly with a Federal agency), anybody you use to help define what you want (the “requirement”) is generally barred from involvement in providing the resulting goods and services. State and local regulations often differ. But as a good business practice, consulting with an expert who does not have a vested interest in the chosen approach will help define your requirements in a way that guarantees you a preferred outcome, rather than a preferred vendor.
Fehr & Peers, Foursquare ITP, and Toole Design Group are consultancies that, as far as I know, have in-house expertise in planning a bikeshare system, but no operational role or interest in delivering a system. I have no experience or relationship with any of these firms, and listing them here does not constitute an endorsement in any way. If you are part of another firm that provides planning assistance for bikeshare systems, without any involvement in delivering bikeshare programs or systems, let me know in the comments.
And lest you think the very best bikesharing system can be defined with a bit of googling (or printing out this post), know that there is so much potential for advancement beyond what is currently deployed. Do not forestall this innovation by restricting yourself to what is easily known. Consider what is possible, and you might just put your community into the lead of advancing bikesharing to the next generation.