Pronto lie means Seattle didn’t vet bike program before foolish bailout

Mar 23, 2016, 12:47 PM
An ethics complaint has been filed against the director of Seattle's Department of Transportation a...
An ethics complaint has been filed against the director of Seattle's Department of Transportation and the city's bike-share system, Pronto! KIRO Radio's Jason Rantz wants to know how massive screw up happened and who will be fired over it. (City of Seattle)
(City of Seattle)

We learned this week that the failed Seattle bike-share program Pronto! seemingly lied about its membership numbers. If that’s true, the Seattle City Council bailed out a program under false pretenses, not just further showing the decision was financially imbecilic, but proving to the voters how little vetting either the council or the Seattle Department of Transportation is capable of.

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

According to KING 5, the general manager of Pronto’s parent company, Motivate, admitted the bike share service’s membership is far below the 3,000 members they claimed.

KING 5 reports:

Demi Allen, in an email to KING 5, acknowledged current membership is closer to 1,900, writing, “We’ll be working hard to win back members who have chosen not to renew over the past few months during this period of uncertainty.”

Perhaps Demi can first work hard at explaining how this massive screw up happened and explain who will be fired over it.

But, more importantly, how did the Seattle City Council not catch this? They just spent $1.4 million of taxpayer money that, even at 3,000 membership levels, was money foolishly spent. We just now realize they spent $736 per Pronto member to save a service that can’t succeed in Seattle.

Did the city council not vet the data provided to them? Perhaps they didn’t care. This was an ideological decision by most of the council members and they would have supported this bad bailout even if there were only 10 members. So why was the membership data hidden? Surely Pronto knew they had support from the majority of the council. (If the council wouldn’t have supported a bailout with the true membership numbers, I expect they will reconvene and discuss this sale again, don’t you think?)

But the questions go beyond just the council. Did the Seattle Department of Transportation knowingly lie to the city council over the details of this failed business? How did SDOT, the chief advocate for buying this business, not know the actual membership data? The expectation is that they vet the data. And how much did the former Motivate employee (then known as Alta) and current SDOT Director Scott Kubly know about this?

Kubly is now at the center of a Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission investigation. We’re not certain what the investigation is over but we do know it’s somehow connected to Pronto.

Something has long been fishy with how hard he’s fought for the company he has ties to. He’s a bike activist first (SDOT Director second), and we learned last week, per the Seattle Weekly, that the city’s “law department hadn’t actually vetted Kubly over any potential conflict of interest as I’d been led to believe by the mayor’s office.”

The Seattle Met reports:

Kubly, acknowledging there’s no written or formal record of the city vetting his relationship with Alta, says he talked with the ethics department about the rules and subsequently, at their advice, talked to the mayor’s office. He says he does “not remember” who he talked to in the mayor’s office.

Ethics director Wayne Barnett confirmed that he sat down with Kubly and “explained the ethics code” – you can’t work on any matter involving a private company where you worked a year prior without a written request from your boss (the mayor in this case) explaining why the assignment is necessary and what ethical safeguards are in place – and “did discuss with him what was required as the result of his past relationship with Alta.”

Is this the subject of the investigation? We’ll find out. Kubly promises to be transparent with us, just not until after the investigation. How about he openly discusses what he’s being accused of and opens up about his relationship with Pronto. It’ll save us a lot of time and speculation.

UPDATE: I accidentally credited Weekly when it was Seattle Met.

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Pronto lie means Seattle didn’t vet bike program before foolish bailout