Bike-share locks meet industry standards, but were no match for Baltimore thieves, manufacturer says

The manufacturer of the $2.36 million Baltimore Bike Share system said his company has never experienced the level of theft that caused officials to announce a temporary shutdown of the program to allow additional locking devices to be installed to the bike docks.

The original locks on the bike stations were overwhelmed by thieves ripping the bicycles out at an unprecedented pace, said Alain Ayotte, CEO of Bewegen Technologies, the Canadian manufacturer.

“We don’t have this issue anywhere else, not at this level,” Ayotte said Wednesday. “Our locking system is recognized [as] very, very up to industry standard, but due to the issues that occurred in Baltimore this summer, we did add additional security.”

The bike-share program launched last fall with 200 bicycles at 20 stations and was supposed to grow to 500 bicycles at 50 stations in the spring. Instead, it has suffered so many thefts and maintenance backups that most of the bicycles are out of service. The program will close Sunday and reopen Oct. 15.

Ayotte declined to describe in detail the original locks or the new ones, citing proprietary technology.

He confirmed that Bewegen will pay for the installment of the additional locks but would not disclose the cost, saying only that it was “substantial.”

Officials have repeatedly declined to share figures of exactly how many bicycles have been stolen.

The bicycles are outfitted with GPS technology, so the stolen or abandoned bikes were usually recovered. But thefts and other non-returns of the bicycles had become such an issue that two maintenance employees were devoted solely to bike recovery, officials said.

Bicycles are often damaged when they're ripped out of their docks or ditched in an alley, which has contributed to the maintenance backlog that leaves about 100 bicycles at a time awaiting fixes.

The bikes cost $2 to rent for a 45-minute single trip or $15 for a monthly pass, which provides users an unlimited number of 45-minute rides for 30 days.

Ayotte said he understands monthly users being upset by the lack of service. City officials made the right move to shut down the system and regroup, he said.

“We’ve had different challenges [in Baltimore] than other places, but the city is 100 percent behind the bike share system so we’ll make sure we’ll overcome these issues,” Ayotte said.

The Baltimore Department of Transportation apologized for misleading riders about the reasons for the lack of bicycles across the system. Users who complained about empty docks across the city were told for months that it was a “rebalancing issue.”

“Our intentions were not to confuse riders at all, but to make sure each station had a good supply of bikes on demand,” spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said. “Unfortunate incidents hindered supply. Moving forward communication will be much clearer and direct.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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