The Seattle City Council will never be mistaken for a body that understands economics. From its embrace of the job-killing $15 minimum wage to its pending vote to tell employers who they can hire and how much those people can work, it’s clear that council members are far more concerned about trying to “out-Left” San Francisco than they are about anything that could smack of being pro-business.
That’s why the latest shoe to drop in the controversy over the city’s bike-share company – Pronto – should come as no surprise. For those who may not have been following this money-wasting scandal, city officials decided to buy the failing company – with unethical connections to Seattle’s Department of Transportation Director – earlier this year.
And as Danny Westneat wrote over the weekend in the Seattle Times:
“But it turns out that when the city asked for bids on how to make Seattle’s system grow and thrive, the top three bidders — one of which was Motivate [ed note: which runs Pronto for the city] — all said the current system of bikes and stations should be scrapped. This past week the city selected a Quebec company, Bewegen, which wants to put in an all-electric bike system. If adopted, it means all the green Pronto bikes would be abandoned by early next year. And all the stations around town would likely be rendered useless, as they would need to be replaced with electric charging stations.”
So what lesson does the city learn for its $1 million-plus failed investment? From a Council member who voted against the purchase:
“‘Talk about misrepresentation,’ says City Councilmember Tim Burgess, one of only two to vote against the buyout (seven voted in favor.) ‘In the spring they’re telling us they need this money to save the system. ‘We need these assets so we can expand,’ they said. And now they’ve turned around just a few months later and said ‘this system is crap, we need to start over from scratch.’
“‘Now that we own it, I believe the best thing we could do is shut it down today, before it burns through any more money,’ Burgess said.”
Since saving money is never one of the driving influences for the city council, don’t hold your breath waiting for that action. As Westneat points out, the motivation for buying Pronto in the first place was self-indulgence, not common sense.
“I think it was to preserve Seattle’s green self-image. Herbold said it might be one of the perils of public/private partnerships — that when the private company gets in trouble, the public side feels a responsibility to bail it out. Add to all that how cozy city government is with the bike-sharing industry.”
So, taxpayers’ are out over a million dollars, the failed bike-share company that was well-connected with city bureaucrats got bailed out, and the public is left with 500 useless bikes. Westneat closes, “As for the Pronto bikes, they might not be so easy to break up with. ‘The bike model and docking stations used in the current system are unique to Seattle, which may limit the secondary market for the equipment,’ a council staff memo warned last spring. Great. Anyone want 500 lime-green bikes, little used?”