B-cycle postpones today's free bike deal (and two others) over lingering system glitch

Update: On Monday, we filled you in about a computer glitch that prevented people who wanted to access a B-cycle from doing so with a credit card -- issues that cropped up during one of 2013's busiest weekends to date. See our previous coverage below.

Two days later, the system still isn't back to normal. As a result, a free B-cycle offer intended to build excitement for Bike to Work Day has been canceled for today, and the next two Wednesdays as well.

As we've reported, the issues began cropping up last Friday in the wake of a software upgrade necessitated by B-cycle's expansion; the system is now in twenty cities nationwide. A number of locations were impacted, but Denver was hit hardest. Subscribers with so-called B-cards generally didn't have difficulties, but walk-up users with credit cards routinely had their transactions time out, preventing them from using a B-cycle to get back and forth from events over the weekend, including the People's Fair, Denver Comic Con and the Denver Chalk Art Festival.

Given all this activity, Denver B-cycle spokesman Mark Stevens conceded that the timing of the B-cycle meltdown was unfortunate -- and the lack of a long-term fix is prolonging the pain. Today had been designated as Whole Foods Free Day, part of a promotion that was also planned for the next two Wednesdays, June 12 and June 19, in advance of Bike to Work Day on June 26.

"Whole Foods was underwriting the daily membership fees for the first thirty minutes," Stevens says. "It's designed to encourage people to try the system."

Due to the glitch, however, Stevens says B-cycle has not only postponed today's deal, but also those scheduled for next week and the one afterward.

The decision doesn't mean the issue is expected to last the whole month. Indeed, Stevens says, "we have some progress happening behind the scenes. We're not ready to declare victory, but there were some promising signs yesterday, and in some situations, things were starting to get better."

As such, he goes on, the free-day-postponement call was made simply "because the system is not working at 100 percent. So we'll get together with Whole Foods and pick another series of dates," likely during the coming months.

In the meantime, "our message today is that we would caution against planning on a credit card to work," Stevens says. "It may in some spots; we don't know what percentage of stations there are where things are getting better."

Moreover, annual members with a B-card "shouldn't have any problem. Everything for them seems to be working fine."

At last, some good news.

Continue for our previous coverage of the B-cycle glitch, including photos. Original post, 10 a.m. June 3: As we noted in our Denver Chalk Art Festival photos post, downtown Denver was a-bustle this weekend thanks to events that included the People's Fair and Denver Comic Con. The extravaganzas drew lotsa folks, many of whom might have been tempted to take advantage of Denver's popular bike-sharing program and rent a B-cycle from one of the many kiosks in the area. But technical difficulties made doing so impossible for those who weren't already signed up as members -- and it's not fixed yet.

"What a showcase weekend for Denver," says Denver B-cycle spokesman Mark Stevens. "There were lots of people getting in and out of downtown, and many of them were likely considering checking out a B-cycle. So the timing was not good."

The problem didn't effect annual B-cycle members in possession of a so-called B-card -- just those who tried to use a credit card. And while the troubles weren't limited to Denver, Brent Tongco, a former Denver Bike Sharing staffer who's now business development manager for B-cycle LLC, the national company that oversees the local operation, acknowledges that our fair city was hit the hardest.

The issue cropped up after "we started making some software modifications to deal with he growing size of the B-cycle stems," Tongco says. "Now that we're in more than twenty cities, our software vendor had to make these modifications and push it into the system. But because of this, unfortunately, there were some delays in transactions when we introduced the modifications."

As a result, Tongco continues, "our system timed out for a lot of people using credit cards at the kiosks," making it impossible for them to pay for and use a B-cycle.

This failure, which first began taking place on Friday afternoon, didn't cause the entire B-cycle infrastructure to lock up. "We've seen it isolated in a couple of other systems, but not as much as in Denver," Tongco concedes. "Right now, the Denver system is really the one that's bearing the brunt of it," for reasons that aren't entirely clear at this point.

Messages about the glitch were sent out via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Locally, Stevens says, staffers also headed out to some of the most-used B-cycle kiosks over the weekend to explain what was going on.

"We tried to get people to the highest-traffic stations, like 16th and Market," he says, "and we had messages on the kiosks about the nature of the problem. And I heard anecdotally that people were very forgiving, very understanding."

The B-cycle crew hopes they'll continue to react in this way, since the system still isn't working properly.

Continue for more about the B-cycle system failure and attempts to repair it. Those with B-cycle memberships should be able to check out a bike, although they may experience some difficulties, too. Card-holders are advised to tap their card three times on the silver button atop each dock -- "just like Dorothy," says a Facebook post accompanied by this photo: That doesn't mean walk-out customers have been forgotten. Tongco stresses that B-cycle personnel worked throughout the weekend trying to correct the credit-card problem and are still doing so at this writing. "A lot of us haven't been getting a lot of sleep," he allows. "We continually monitor the system, and as soon as it started happening, we were on it, trying to find solutions."

As with any computer screw-up, saying when everything will be running smoothly again is nearly impossible. But Tongco emphasizes that "we want to take care of it as soon as possible.

Until then, he says, "we apologize to the people who are trying to use the system."

Here's the official B-cycle statement about the problem:

The B-cycle has been the most stable bike sharing system in the U.S. for the past three years. We are now in more than 20 locations. And we are making some software modifications to deal with our growing size.

In a few cases, there have been some delays in transactions as we implement these proactive changes. This issue affects walk-up users interfacing with the kiosk. Annual members can access the system and check out bikes at the docks with membership B-cards. B-cycle remains committed to investing in the development necessary to ensure a world class bicycle share system in all cities.

More from our Things to Do archive: "Photos: Denver Chalk Art Festival 2013."

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