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City wants to spend millions to replace Pronto bike share with electric-assist bikes

All those bikes the city purchased for its bike-share program would be come obsolete with an all-electric system. (City of Seattle)

The city of Seattle has chosen a new vendor to completely replace the bike share program it bailed out for $1.4 million earlier this year, and the new electric-assist fleet will likely cost about $5 million more.

It will begin negotiations with Bewegen, a Canada-based company that recently signed a contract to roll out the bikes in Baltimore.

“Some people look at it and say, ‘You’re throwing good money after bad.’ How do you respond to that?” KIRO 7 asked SDOT’s Transportation and Mobility director, Andrew Glass Hastings.

Related: Will Seattle officials be able to electrify struggling bike program?

“I’d say, give us a chance to see if we can come to a contract that really resets bike share in Seattle,” he said.

He said if the city moves forward with the new system, the city would try to sell the equipment it purchased, which includes about 500 bikes and about 50 docking stations, to a college, a corporation with a large campus, or another city to try to recoup the costs.

The new bikes have electric motors that assist riders as they pedal. Some like the idea.

“It takes a lot of energy going up these hills, so why not just make it electric,” Shawn Toor said.

Others are doubtful.

“[Is] the fact that they’re not electric really the problem? Is that what’s preventing people from using them?” Jeff Vedvick, who used to cycle about 100 miles a week going back and forth to work, said. “I don’t know, that seems like a little bit of a reach to me.”

KIRO 7 asked Glass Hastings, “Is there any kind of data or any kind of study that shows more people in Seattle would use electric-assist bikes?”

“There’s lots of data that shows that electric assist bikes are a more attractive bike share option for the common user,” Glass Hastings said.

“OK, but not a study in Seattle?” KIRO 7 asked.

“I’ll have to find out whether there’s been a study done in Seattle,” he said.

Glass Hastings said later that a study exists and that he will provide a copy of the study to KIRO 7 next week.

There are two financial proposals. In one, Glass Hastings explained, the city pays for the equipment but Bewegen assumes the financial risk. It would be responsible for operating costs, get the profits, and use 50 percent of the profits generated to further expand the system.

In the other, the city assumes risk but gets the profits, which Bewegen estimates at $600,000.

“That’s a huge number, considering Pronto was failing,” KIRO 7 said. “How do you believe that number in terms of a profit?”

“Yeah, and so the city’s going to do its own analysis, financial analysis,” Glass Hastings said. “We’re using the response and financial analysis that came from the vendor as a reference point. We’re going to do our own analysis to compare and vet that information.”

The city’s goal was to roll out the new bike share system in summer of 2017, but depending on how long negotiations take, it could be much longer than that. Glass Hastings said SDOT does not plan to make the same mistake that Pronto did by launching in the fall. If summer 2017 does not work, he said the city would launch in the spring of the following year.

Glass Hastings said SDOT will need City Council approval before it can move forward.

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