(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

This morning the team of workers who keep Portland’s Biketown bike share system up and running were greeted with an email that informed them they might not have a job come May 1st.

That’s the date when a new company will take over the maintenance duties of the Biketown fleet from Motivate LLC. According to workers employed by Motivate who have reached out to BikePortland in the past two days, Lyft, the company that owns Motivate and holds the bike share contract with the City of Portland, has chosen a new maintenance vendor. That puts about 20 full time employees who currently repair and maintain Portland’s bike fleet in limbo.

“We deeply appreciate the hard work from the Portland team over the years and everyone who has contributed to the organization,” read this morning’s email from Motivate CEO Matthew Parker. “We will be working with the new vendor to place as many of the current Portland staff as possible and create as smooth of a transition as possible for those impacted.”

“It was kind of a shock to me,” said Hazel Light in an interview Wednesday. Light has worked on Biketown for Motivate since 2018. She’s also the station chair for Transit Workers Union Local 320. “It’s an anti-union move in my opinion,” she added.

According to Lyft Communications Director Jordan Levine, Motivate was involved in a competitive procurement process and “given serious consideration.” In the end, Lyft chose Shift Transit instead. “We were most impressed with Shift Transit’s ability to provide service levels that meet PBOT’s and Lyft’s expectations,” Levine said.

Shift Transit already manages bike share fleets in Toronto, Tucson, Chattanooga, and Detroit. They also run the Biketown system at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton. On their website, Shift Transit claims to be the leading bike share operator in North America with a portfolio that includes more than 15,000 docks and 8,500 bikes. It’s also notable that some employees of bike share systems managed by Shift Transit, like MoGo in Detroit, are already TWU members.

For her part, Light says she and her fellow employees, “Feel like the rug got pulled out from under them.” She worries that if the former Motivate workers aren’t rehired by Shift Transit, Biketown will suffer. “You would lose a lot of that knowledge, degrade service and it will result in fewer bikes on the street. It would really be a setback for bike share in the city,” she added.

According to Lyft, the move will also consolidate the maintenance and rebalancing contracts into one instead of two companies. Currently Motivate has the contract for maintenance and First Transit does the rebalancing work. Shift Transit will now take on both jobs, which Lyft says will result in “operations and staffing efficiencies.”

The move comes at a time when Biketown is outperforming expectations and continues to post strong ridership numbers — despite an aging fleet that hasn’t been increased in size since it launched in September 2020. Meanwhile, both cycling ridership numbers and traffic fatalities are headed in the wrong direction. Having a stronger Biketown fleet — especially in parts of town where new bike infrastructure sits relatively empty — could be the antidote to Portland’s biking blues.

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