Did the City of Seattle buy Pronto for less than you think?

Mar 23, 2016, 6:53 AM | Updated: 6:53 am
Steven Bafus took a Pronto bike on a little more unique of a ride through Seattle than most other c...
Steven Bafus took a Pronto bike on a little more unique of a ride through Seattle than most other commuters. (AP)

The Seattle City Council agreed to spend $1.4 million to save the Pronto bike share program last week. Back in 2013, the city received a $1 million grant from the federal government to launch the program.

The variable math led KIRO Radio’s “Tom and Curley” to wonder how much the city might owe if, for whatever reason, the city decides to jump out of the bike-share business next year.

“They spend the $1.4 million,” John Curley said. “Let’s say they have to bail a year from now, do they still owe the government another million?”

“If it is $1.4 million, plus another million, are you looking at $2.4 million for anther failure?” Tom Tangney asked.

Related: Ethics investigation launched into SDOT director over Pronto bike share

A legislative assistant in city council member Mike O’Brien’s office said this is a common misconception since the city needed to pay back the $1 million grant for Pronto no matter what. That means, in essence, the city purchased the program for $400,000.

Beyond the $1.4 million spent on buying Pronto, the city spent $305,000 to keep it alive until the vote. Thus the follow-up question: How much would it cost if the city decides to swallow their losses and jump ship next year?

Tom Tangney: “This could be an example of Seattle trying something and if it doesn’t work I doubt that they’ll double down on the double down.”

John Curley: “Why wouldn’t they? As somebody who has voted with public money before, if it feels good and it’s only a million dollars you’re like what the heck, let’s give it a try because it’s not your money and it feels good. It’s a good feel good vote. That’s why you get people who vote for this thing.

TT: “Go for another year and then reassess. I think if it doesn’t work on this double down, that they may be willing to bail.”

Newell Aldrich, the legislative assistant to council member Lisa Herbold, one of two council members who opposed the Pronto bailout, said Pronto will likely need another $5 million in 2017 for the system expansion, plus operating costs of approximately $2 million each year. As for the potential dead costs if the city decides not to “double down on the double down,” Aldrich says that depends on a number of factors, including how much is spent on the contractor who wins the bid to run Pronto.

“That’s when we would really know,” Aldrich said. “It depends on a number of moving parts … I think the problem here is it’s unknown.”

John Curley and Shari Elliker on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 3pm for John Curley and Shari Elliker.

John Curley and Shari Elliker

John Curley and Shari Elliker

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Did the City of Seattle buy Pronto for less than you think?