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How Local Governments Came to Embrace Business Partnerships

Ten years ago, anything less than $200 million had little hope of connecting the public and private sectors in the U.S. Now public-private partnerships are driving modernization for many cities—and sometimes controversy.
Bikeshare programs in Minneapolis and elsewhere are collaborations between city governments and private businesses.
Bikeshare programs in Minneapolis and elsewhere are collaborations between city governments and private businesses. Jim Mone/AP

Next summer, cities across the U.S. have a birthday to celebrate. In August 2018, the nation’s very first experiment in bikeshare turns 10 years old. While the network itself, SmartBike D.C., didn’t last that long, it led promptly to the launch of the most robust bikeshare network in the country, Capital Bikeshare. Scores of similar systems soon followed.

When bikeshare in the U.S. celebrates its anniversary next year, it will also mark an important mile-marker for public–private partnerships. Ten years ago, these vehicles for government partnerships with the private sector were virtually unheard of outside the realm of massive infrastructure projects like highways. But those early bikeshare rollouts in Minneapolis, Boston, Denver, and other cities—most of them public–private partnerships—proved that cities could be fertile ground for these collaborative enterprises.