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Will Seattle officials be able to electrify struggling bike program?

It won't be hard to find a cheap (or free) bike if Seattle can't fix the bikeshare program. (Joe Mabel/Flickr)
LISTEN: Are electric bikes the right choice for Seattle?

Seattle’s struggling bike-share program is one step closer to becoming electric.

The Seattle Times reports officials selected a Quebec company to add electric bikes to the Pronto! program. The city will now negotiate with the company — Bewegen — on terms.

If terms are reached, the contract will be executed, the Times reports.

If the bike-share program becomes all electric, KIRO Radio’s John Curley wonders how long it will be before someone steals the bikes. It wouldn’t be the first time something the city has done with good intentions has backfired.

Take, for example, the city’s $5-million purchase of five self-cleaning toilets, Curley says. The toilets, stationed around the city, were supposed to be safe, clean facilities for tourists and homeless people. Instead, they became what one KIRO Radio host called 9-foot tall silver pods for drugs and prostitution.

The city ended up selling those toilets on eBay for $12,500 in 2008.

Listen to Curley’s Pronto! debate

Maybe not surprisingly at this point, one of the companies on the bidder list for making Pronto! electric was Motivate. Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly is the former president of Motivate. The Times reports that Motivate, formerly Alta Bicycle Share, was on the “short-list.”

Motivate has operated Pronto! since it launched in 2014. Since then, however, there have been several issues with the program. There has also been ethical issues with Kubly dealing with the company without divulging the conflict of interest. Kubly was found to be in violation of city ethics rules and he was fined $10,000. Half of that fine was suspended as long as Kubly doesn’t violate any more rules within two years.

Along with spending $1.4 million to save the bike-share program and purchase it from the original owner, SDOT spent $305,000 to keep it afloat just before the purchase — without the city council’s knowledge. An investigation found that the council bailed out the program under false pretenses.

If electric bikes are the future for Seattle, the question becomes what will become of all those bicycles the city bought when it purchased the program?

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