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Puget Sound Bike Share is readying for a 2014 launch by hiring the same operating firm that’s introducing service in Portland and Vancouver, B.C.

There will be about 500 bicycles at 50 streetside stops in North and Central Seattle.

Users grab a bike at one stop, ride several blocks or a couple of miles, then leave it at another.

Portland-based Alta Bike Share has been chosen to build and operate the Seattle system, the nonprofit Puget Sound Bike Share will announce Tuesday.

The contract hasn’t yet been signed, said executive director Holly Houser, but a draft business plan last year estimated $3.7 million to supply land, bike racks, bicycles, helmets and communication kiosks.

Operations require an additional $1.4 million the opening year, she said, and it will take a few years to break even.

Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., charges $5 a day, $25 a month or $75 a year, to give an idea of potential fees for users.

Alta wrote the business plan, raising an obvious question about conflict of interest. Did the firm supply the nonprofit with an overly optimistic study data to create its own market?

Houser says no, there was healthy competition from five enterprises that made proposals for Seattle. And some key reasons for choosing Alta weren’t even in the plan, she said, such as the use of solar collectors to power the payment and information kiosks.

Alta was the only firm ready to operate its system, rather than require the nonprofit group to hire a second contractor, Houser said.

The program would be funded through state and federal grants, plus sponsorships by businesses. The state Department of Transportation has recommended $750,000 for the program, but other funds aren’t secured yet.

The 500 bicycles would be at the Seattle Children’s medical campus in Laurelhurst, the University District, Eastlake, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, downtown, the Chinatown International District and near the stadiums in Sodo.

The business model resembles Car2Go, except Bike Share has specific stops, whereas Car2Go vehicles can be dropped at curbside throughout most of the city.

“Having this whole menu of options from buses to light rail to Car2Go to Bike Share, it gives you options and confidence you’ll be able to get around without a single-occupancy vehicle,” said Houser.

Bike Share features include:

• Seven gears to help climb hills, instead of the usual three;

• Rain fenders, and a plastic guard to keep dresses out of rear spokes;

• Built-in front and rear lights powered by the cyclist;

• A low cross bar for easy dismount;

• Front basket;

• Helmets, dispensed for a possible $2 daily fee from a vending machine.

“You ask for a helmet, it comes out a door on the bottom. It’s just like getting candy or a bag of chips,” said Steve Durrant, a principal partner at Alta.

Seattle has a mandatory-helmet law. Durrant says Alta predicted 30 percent fewer riders than if helmets weren’t required.

Still, they anticipate 450,000 riders the first year, surpassing 2 million as the service expands to other areas, over five years.

Capital Bikeshare has been criticized by the Reason Foundation
as catering to white, affluent clients using tax dollars, while missing lower-income people. Durrant replied that groups in D.C. are offering ways for people without bank accounts to enroll.

Alta will start networks in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland and Vancouver, B.C., in the next year, and already operates bike shares in D.C., Boston, and Chattanooga, Tenn., he said.

Eventually, service here could spread to suburban areas including Overlake and Kirkland, the business plan says. Durrant said bike-shares might spread to rail-transit stations.

Doing so might serve more working-class folks — for instance, if airport employees and apartment dwellers around International Boulevard South can use Bike Share around the RapidRide and Link stops.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or On Twitter @mikelindblom