Progression of bike sharing RFP: deadline is approaching


Madison, Wisconsin, has a B-Cycle bike sharing system. B-Cycle is likely to submit a proposal. Photo by Jeramey Jannene. 

Updated October 16, 2011, to add more information about the station selection task order and provide it for download. 

Proposals for Chicago’s large scale bike sharing system are due to the City of Chicago on or before October 25 – that’s 12 days away! The request for proposals (RFP) was issued on September 21, 2011. I and 29 others attended the pre-proposal conference a week later at City Hall (121 N LaSalle St) on September 28 to meet with Jacoby Radford, contract negotiator with the Department of Procurement Services (DPS), Scott Kubly, the head of the bike sharing project at the Department of Transportation (CDOT), and Ben Gomberg, Bicycle Program coordinator (CDOT).

It seemed that the purpose of the meeting was to get know who vendors would be working with at the City and who they would be up against in the proposal process. Some new information was provided, and Scott explained the City’s aims in building a bike sharing system. But any answers given by the City to attendees were “not official”. Questions had to be submitted in writing after which the City would respond with an RFP addendum.

New information

Jacoby reminded the attendees, who represented 18 companies of potential bidders and interested partners, about the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise requirements (5% of the cost of system manufacturing and installation must be performed by companies registered with the State of Illinois as DBE). He advised that vendors prepare their Economic Disclosure Statements as quickly as possible (Exhibit 6 of the RFP) and told the audience that a $900 submittal fee was necessary from all vendors submitting a proposal (based strictly on the wording of the RFP, I was unable to be sure if this fee was required).

Scott reiterated the City’s aims in implementing bike sharing: becoming the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States; enhance the public transit system by providing bicycles to complete the first or last leg of their trip; and reduce congestion (Rahm has another idea for congestion reduction in his budget, announced yesterday). These were all first outlined in page 2 of the RFP.

Perhaps most important to Grid Chicago readers was Scott’s talk about geographic focus: he showed a map with a boundary outlining central Chicago. The northern boundary was Belmont Avenue, Western Avenue on the west, 35th Street on the south side, and the lakefront to the east. This boundary came up in a question I’ve listed below.


  • September 21: Request for proposals issued
  • September 28: Pre-proposal conference (conference attendees list)
  • October 03: Questions due
  • October 12: Release addendum
  • October 25: Proposals due (this is in 13 days!)
  • November 2011: Evaluate proposals
  • December 2011: Negotiate contract (target)
  • January – June 2012: Implementation (target)
  • June 2012: Service launch

Station planning

The “bike sharing RFP” covers only the manufacture and installation of a bike sharing system. It does not cover obtaining permits or selecting station locations. All of that will be performed by a second contractor.

For those functions, the City issued a Task Order Proposal Request (TOPR) to firms pre-qualified for “Surface Transportation Planning Studies, Category 3: Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning”. There are 16 qualified firms; they had until October 3 to submit proposals. A vendor should be selected in November.

The scope of work for Bike Sharing Locations and Outreach includes:

  • Identifying bike station locations. Tasks include developing methodologies to determine the best locations, soliciting public input, conducting site visits, preparing plans for each location, and obtaining approvals/permits to place the stations on public and private properties.
  • Outreach to cyclists and the general public. Tasks include promotion to existing cyclists through existing groups and social media, Bike Sharing Ambassadors, and presentations to businesses, public agencies and community groups.

Scott explained that a second RFP to arrange advertisers and sponsors would be issued.


Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, launched a bike sharing system in May 2010. The city’s compulsory helmet law is suspected of contributing to low usage. The system uses Bixi bikes from the Public Bike System Company of Montréal, Quebec, Canada. Public Bike System Company is a technology vendor. Photo by Gavin Anderson. 


I recorded every question asked at the pre-proposal conference, but now that the official answers to vendors’ submitted questions are available, I’m only going to reference the official answers. These were provided to attendees yesterday in Addendum 1. Fifty-two questions were answered – the person who asked the question isn’t known. Answers were generally vague and often referred readers to the RFP. Here are some that I find most interesting [my comments in brackets]:


Q: We are wondering whether there will be the possibility of some sharing stations being located outside these boundaries at potential high- traffic locations in the initial stage? For instance, at Irving Park and the lakefront, at Logan Square, or in Hyde Park at the lakefront?

A: Yes. The implementation zone is an estimate and is non-binding. CDOT is in the process of refining station locations [described above in Station planning]. This will be finalized when the winning Respondent is selected.

Atypical bicycles

Q: Have you considered a program which would enable a wide diversity of human-powered vehicle designs rather than singe model?

Q: Can you envision this program as a step on the path to the evolution of bicycle design so that it includes weather protection, electric-assist motors, multiple riders, etc.?

Q: Can electric-assisted models possibly be included? Utility models?

A: The City is seeking a vehicle that can meet the specifications described in the RFP. Respondents can propose additional features provided that the bike meets the required features outlined in the RFP.

Community organizations as part of the proposals

Q: Are there advantages to empowering community-based organizations to include this activity in their current operations by dispensing bikes to seniors, kids etc? If good locks, which can be had for $25-$50 each, can be dispensed and kept track of, without significant rate of theft, is a lot of expensive technology essential here?

A: The City is procuring a point-to-point bikesharing system. Community-based organizations can pursue the proposed solution if they deem it part of their mission. [It seems to me that there advantages to empowering CBOs to include this activity in their current operations but this question has nothing to do with the bike sharing system the City is requesting from a vendor and more to do with questioning spending millions of dollars on a large scale bike sharing system.]

Q: Don’t costs like $6,000 per bike for highly automated systems, (when excellent, durable bikes can be bought for $100-$1000 apiece wholesale depending on type and features), suggest the need for a hybrid architecture that allows for different methods to be used for different populations, the elderly etc. and under different conditions?

A: Respondents can propose any system that meets the specifications laid out in the RFP. [This is the answer I expected as the question doesn’t fit in very well with the requirements of this bike sharing RFP, nor does it fit in with how large scale bike sharing systems operate in other cities.]

Risk and profits

Q: The RFP is a bit unclear on expected profit sharing with the City. On page 3 the RFP provides “operating profits generated by user fees and memberships will be shared by the City…” Exhibit 1, Scope of Services A.2 in contrast, seems to contemplate the possibility of a city provided operating subsidy. Please clarify whether the City expects to share profits or whether the City proposes to subsidize operating costs.

A: As opposed to many North American contracts in which all upside is given to the City, CDOT anticipates sharing both upside and downside risk. The City anticipates that this sharing of risk will be reflected in proposed pricing. As such, the City is open to proposals that anticipate the City partially or fully subsidizing operations.

[After reading this question, I had the same confusion. As I recall, City representatives mentioned many times (at MBAC and the pre-proposal conference) that the vendor would be responsible for operating costs but must share any profits with the City – the City’s only involvement is using the $18 million in federal funds to purchase and install the system while the vendor is in charge of manufacturing, installation, and day-to-day operations. This answer says that the City still expects to share profits the vendor makes, but may also be expected to subsidize operations.]

Age requirement

Q: Does the City propose a minimum age to use the bicycle sharing system?

A: Yes, 16.

Integration with CTA fare media

Q: Section F 10 refers to acceptance of a CTA card. While this is not a technical challenge there is a contractual issue. Transit passes typically can be purchased for cash and can be anonymous. Will the City be able to ensure that CTA cardholders can be held responsible for bikes not returned? Are you thinking in terms of all CTA cards or only a special series of CTA cards for which such assurance can be provided?

A: Please review the CTA Open Fare Media RFP [also known as universal fare card]. CDOT is primarily concerned at this point with the technical interoperability. Before any interoperability is offered to customers, the City, CTA, and the Contractor will ensure that contractual and security issues are address.

[I haven’t been able to find and review this RFP yet. It’s not posted on the CTA’s website; I’ve asked the CTA about this and am waiting for a response. I wrote earlier about this universal fare card project.]


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