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Firm Buys Big Bike-Share Service; Expansion And Higher Rates Seen

Alta Bicycle Share, the company that manages bike-sharing programs in New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities, has been sold to an investment group that includes executives in fitness club operator Equinox and real estate firm Related Companies. The new owners say they'll expand the service in New York, where customers now take more than 1 million trips a month on Citi Bike.

The sales price wasn't disclosed, but the new investment group, Bikeshare Holdings LLC, says that the deal between New York City officials, Alta, and program sponsor Citi will bring more than $100 million in cash and sponsorship funds.

Announcing the deal today, the company said it would also raise the annual fee by $50 for its New York customers, from the current price of $95.

"The rate for an annual program membership, also for unlimited 45 minute rides, will become $149. This change is necessary to provide world-class service for this hugely popular and well-used system, making it financially viable for the long-term. The price change will go into effect at a date to be announced shortly. Citi Bike is also exploring possible weekend, monthly and tourist membership."

It's not yet clear whether bike-share customers outside of New York should expect to see similar price hikes. Annual costs for the service vary; in Washington, D.C., for instance, the annual rate is $75.

Alta has struggled both to expand its offerings and to cope with problems in its "supply chain, software system, and operations," as StreetsBlog reports. The Canadian company that has been a key bike-share supplier, the Public Bike System Co., filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, citing nearly $50 million in debt, as the Two-Way reported.

As part of the deal, Alta, currently based in Portland, will move its headquarters to New York City. It will also get a new CEO, Jay Walder, a transportation veteran whose previous posts include leading the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"Riders on Alta-operated bikes have taken more than 28 million trips and traveled more than 45 million miles to date," the new company says.

Here's a list of the bike-share programs Alta currently manages:

Divvy (Chicago)
Citi Bike (New York City)
CoGo Bike Share (Columbus, Ohio)
Bay Area Bike Share (San Francisco Bay Area)
Capital Bike Share (Washington, D.C., area)
Hubway (Boston area)
Bike Chattanooga (Tenn.)
Pronto Cycle Share (Seattle)
Bike Share Toronto (Canada)
Melbourne Bike Share (Australia)

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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