Seattle City Council approves Pronto bike-share system bailout
The City of Seattle expanded its transportation reach Monday with a buyout of the local bike-share system.
In a 7-2 vote, the Seattle City Council voted in favor of purchasing Pronto! less than a month before the bike share was going to be insolvent. Unlike a snafu in committee, the vote was more clear this time.
“This is an opportunity for us to really integrate our system, both downtown and across the city,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.
“This is needed and to have a bike share program that works is something that will contribute to our transportation system,” she said.
Despite its ultimate approval, not all on the council members were in favor of the bike-share purchase. Tim Burgess and Lisa Herbold voted no. The yes votes were Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, Mike O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw, and Lorena Gonzalez.
“While a bike sharing program…is an important and desired element of our public transportation network, we are faced with the reality today that the current system is insolvent and lacks the ridership, membership, and revenue to be viable,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess. “In essence, the Council is being asked to invest in Pronto’s rescue from insolvency, so that a better and more financially viable service can be adopted. This is what economist call ‘optimism bias.'”
“The risk of investing without a specific plan of action in hand, and we have no plan, or a clear understanding of the city’s financial exposure…are exceedingly high,” he said.
The city already owns 28 of Pronto’s 54 stations. It will now use $1.4 million to purchase the remaining stations and infrastructure from the bike share. That money comes from $5 million slated for transportation projects in town. The city will use remaining funds after the purchase to expand Pronto’s reach to about 80-150 stations, and potentially add electric bikes to the system.
City officials argue that the reason Pronto! was unsuccessful was not because it won’t work in Seattle. Rather, when Pronto! was started, management did not raise enough money to fully implement it and, therefore, went into debt. Also, city officials argue that contracting with a private operator to manage the system added unnecessary costs and overhead. After the purchase, and without these issues, the city believes that Pronto! can successfully operate.