After six years of delays, Baltimore is expected to take a critical step toward launching a citywide bike share program.
The city's spending panel is poised to approve Wednesday a $2.36 million contract with Bewegen Technologies to create Charm City Bikeshare, which plans to place 250 to 500 bikes and 25 to 50 electronic bike-share stations across Baltimore, according to the city's request for bids.
It's not clear when bikes will be available for short-term rental in Baltimore. The city would first spend a month testing bicycles at at least five stations.
Officials have provided few details about how Baltimore's program would work, but in other cities bikes can be rented at one station and returned to another.
The first station sites would include the Inner Harbor, Mount Vernon, Charles North, Jonestown, Fells Point, Hollins Market, Pigtown, Canton, Patterson Park, Mount Clare, Union Square, Federal Hill, Riverside, South Baltimore and Locust Point, according to the city's request for bids.
This is Baltimore's third try at launching a bike sharing program.
The latest attempt, in 2014, was delayed after the Montreal-based vendor selected by the city, Public Bike System Co., went bankrupt. In 2010, the city picked BCycle of Waterloo, Wis., to operate the program, but the contract expired before the bike share launched.
Jon M. Laria, chairman of the mayor's Bicycle Advisory Commission, said the wait has been frustrating, but the city might be better off launching its program now than it would have been six years ago.
Many other cities around the world now rent bikes, so Baltimore has been able to observe what has worked and what hasn't, he said.
"The bike share market has really been maturing," Laria said. "In a strange way, the fact that we were waiting until now probably means we're going to get a better outcome."
Bike sharing is part of the city's effort to improve its infrastructure for cyclists. It's also a piece of a larger transportation puzzle, Laria said.
"No one is suggesting that bike share is going to solve the city's enormous transit issues. ... Obviously, it's not going to be across the city right away," he said. "But to me, it's part of the city's awakening with respect to cycling, and the need for a multi-modal transportation system."
Baltimore transportation director William Johnson compared bike sharing to car sharing programs such as Zipcar, which has parking stations around the city.
"A Bike Share program in Baltimore will provide citizens with convenient, on demand access to bicycles for short distance trips," Johnson said in a statement.
Bewegen was one of six companies to submit proposals for the program.
Two of the other firms — Motivate Co. of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Zagster of Cambridge, Mass. — protested the city's selection of Bewegen. The $2.36 million expected to be awarded to Bewegen is higher than the company's initial $2.1 million bid — and also exceeds Zagster's $2.33 million and Motivate's $587,500 bids.
None of the three companies responded to a request for comment.
Bicycle Transit Systems of Philadelphia, Shift Transit of Chicago and BCycle, which won the failed 2014 contract, also submitted bids.
Liz Cornish, president of BikeMore, a local bicycling advocacy group, said she was pleased with the selection of Bewegen.
The company's website says it has an environmental mission, to "inject sustainability into the urban transportation mix." It calls itself the "missing link in urban mobility."
Bewegen also has a reputation for innovative solutions, Cornish said, such as its "Pedelec" electric-assisted bikes, which use a battery-powered motor to help riders get up hills and go farther without overexerting themselves. Baltimore officials have not said if any bikes would be electric.
Considering public input on just where the bike stations are placed and educating communities on the benefits of bicycling will be crucial to the program's success, Cornish said.
"The barriers to bicycling are complex," she added. "Simply just placing a station in a neighborhood that has transportation challenges isn't going to turn people into bike riders overnight."
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.