The Uphill Push to Save a Bike-Share Pioneer

Aboard a ship on the Indian Ocean, he heard that the bike-sharing company, which is now known as PBSC Urban Solutions, was available for purchase. From a satellite phone, he bid about $4 million in cash to buy the company out of bankruptcy. He did this without hiring lawyers and accountants to scour the books.

“I’m not very rich, but I’m not a poor person,” said Mr. Rodi, a multimillionaire who also owns a Canadian furniture company and whose name is synonymous with sofas in Quebec. “So when this came on the market I said, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ ”

He quickly learned why due diligence matters.

The core of the international business was sound, even profitable by Mr. Rodi’s assertion, although he would not go into the financial specifics of the private company. As Mr. Rodi likes to say, it is the “Rolls-Royce of bike-share systems,” with sturdy equipment and solar-powered Wi-Fi docking stations.

But the company, which was started by the city of Montreal, was starved for capital and crippled by a disastrous decision to change software systems. Bankruptcy only added to its woes, as the company faced shortages of parts and products and as rivals snatched up top customers, like the new Seattle bike-share system.

The industry, in the meantime, has evolved. Once a curiosity favored by politicians to improve their environmental credentials, bike sharing has increasingly become an accepted piece of transit infrastructure. Major cities with established systems are expanding them, while communities outside Europe and North America are turning to bike sharing as a partial answer to urban gridlock.

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