Housing Complex

Celebrating Bike Share Launch in New York, Alta Comes Under Fire in D.C.

Yesterday was a big day for Alta Bicycle Share. The Portland, Ore.-based company, which runs D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare system, launched the largest bike-sharing system in the country on Memorial Day, New York's Citi Bike. All expectations are that the program, which has already drawn its share of criticism and praise, will transform New York's streetscape and transportation network.

But as it celebrates in New York, Alta is taking heat in D.C. The U.S. Department of Labor is already investigating Capital Bikeshare for alleged failure to pay the federal prevailing wage, with appropriate fringe benefits, to its employees. Today, a group of those employees added fuel to the fire by starting an open petition to Alta President Mia Birk demanding back pay for the wages and benefits they say they should have received.

According to a press release sent out today by former Bikeshare mechanic Samuel Swenson, the 16 signatories of the petition are owed more than $100,000, with one "rebalancer" who moves bikes from full to empty stations owed over $10,000. Half of the 16 signatories are former employees, and half are current. An additional two employees asked to sign anonymously.

"There are a lot of people who are really frustrated because it seems to be company practice that you're hired with the promise of benefits and a raise very quickly, and then most people don't get that," says Swenson in a phone interview. Swenson says that while some employees are upset enough that they said, "'Hell yes, sign me on,'" others were worried about imperiling their jobs by putting their names on the petition.

Alta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery