The path to a more reliable and efficient Citi Bike got a bit more complicated this afternoon.
A bankruptcy court judge in Montreal has rejected a bid from REQX Ventures, formed by real estate giant Related Companies and its Equinox Fitness unit, for the international operations of the Public Bike System Company, also known as Bixi. The judge said the REQX bid, while higher than the winning bid, came too late and didn’t meet the required deposit.
Bixi, which developed much of the hardware and the buggy software behind Citi Bike, filed for bankruptcy in January. Had the REQX bid been accepted, a logical next step would have been for the company to also invest in Citi Bike operator Alta Bicycle Share, injecting some much needed capital into a bike-share system that needs better software and smoother operations.
Instead, Bixi will be purchased by Bruno Rodi, a Montreal businessman who owns a furniture company. Rodi, known for his world travels, rode his bicycle along the 2,100-mile Tour de France route in 2007. It remains unclear what he will do with Bixi. He could try to resell the company, which he bought for $4 million — about $1 million less than the REQX bid — or turn it around somehow. Bixi’s most valuable assets at this point are likely the patents it holds with respect to the design of bike-share bikes and other hardware.
Rodi was not in court today (he was on a boat on the Indian Ocean), and his lawyers did not talk to reporters after the judge’s ruling. REQX representative Jonathan Schulhof also refused to speak with reporters.
REQX Ventures offered to pay $5 million for Bixi, but only offered half the required 10 percent deposit for the company. (Rodi made a lower offer, but he had also paid the full deposit amount and came to an agreement with Bixi on Wednesday.) The judge said that rejecting Rodi’s offer would require the multi-week sale process to start over. Bixi, created to launch Montreal’s bike-share system and sell the technology overseas, is reportedly losing approximately $250,000 each week, a loss that ultimately falls to Montreal taxpayers. (The city of Montreal is in the process of purchasing Bixi’s local unit in bankruptcy court.)
Today’s court decision closes a chapter in Bixi’s history while raising new questions about what’s next for bike-share in New York.
Late last year, Citi Bike operator Alta made an unsuccessful bid for Bixi. With Rodi’s purchase, it’s not clear if Alta will continue to work with Bixi as a supplier or seek to acquire bicycles and other hardware from other sources.
The emergence of REQX Ventures signals that potential financial backers in New York remain interested in the bike-share business. Will REQX resurface in the Citi Bike saga despite this setback? Stay tuned.