Seattle is buying the Pronto bike-sharing program for $1.4 million – even though the program essentially failed in nonprofit hands.
Ridership on the city’s 1 ½-year-old bike-sharing network has been low, and the city failed to win a $5 million federal grant to expand the system. Supporters say that money would pay for more stations to pick up and drop off bikes around town -- which could make the program successful.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit that operates Pronto is set to run out of money for the project by the end of the month.
Mayor Ed Murray proposed that the city take over Pronto so it could be expanded throughout the city. But at the Seattle City Council vote Monday, Councilmember Tim Burgess said the city would be taking on too much financial risk with an already-struggling venture.
"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,” Burgess said. “This is what economists call 'optimism bias.'”
Burgess suggested letting Pronto dissolve, making way for a public-private partnership for a new bike share system.
Councilmember Rob Johnson disagreed.
"We as a society spend a lot of time and energy subsidizing our transportation network,” Johnson said. “We bail out the auto industry. We bail out the airline industry. We bail out all kinds of private entities in the transportation space."
The council rejected Burgess’ amendment but approved others that include more council oversight of any expansion of the bike share system – and outreach to low-income communities and people of color to ensure the system works for more of them.
An expanded bike share network would potentially launch next spring.
Flickr photo by Tony Webster (CC by 2.0).