This week, the Seattle City Council will decide whether or not it will spend $1.4 million to keep a failed bike share company afloat – because that is, apparently, a top priority for the circus that is the Seattle City Council. Crazily enough, the bailout under consideration is lower than the $5 million Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed spending to save the program.
But, that’s not even the whole story. The city initially requested a $10 million federal grant to expand the failing bike-share system, and grow from 500 bikes at 50 stations to 2,500 bikes and 250 stations.
Pronto Cycle Share, the failing bike share company, opened just a little over a year ago. The company’s ridership has hovered around less than one trip per bike per day. But, that did not stop the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) from drawing up plans to take over the company. SDOT went so far as to excuse the company’s sad ridership numbers as a “seasonal pattern” and claimed it improved to two or three trips per bicycle this summer—as if that two or three trips was some kind of improvement.
KIRO’s Jason Rantz put the scheme into perspective. Via MyNorthwest.com,
“‘We’re asking for city council to approve the purchase of Pronto assets, stabilize the system, and then come back with detailed expansion information,’ SDOT’s Nicole Freedman told The Seattle Times.
“So buy first, then put together a plan later? That’s not risky at all.
“Their plan, however, is more of the same. The basic argument is you give them more locations to pick up and drop off bikes, more people will use it. Yes, and if only Blockbuster Video kept expanding, despite Netflix showing newer technology is killing their business, it would still be in business. The reason this bike share isn’t viable has nothing to do with locations; it has everything to do with who they need to attract to stay afloat.”
The weather and geographic layout of Seattle makes the prospect of biking, for most commuters, unappealing. Serious bikers, those who would “make rain-soaked commutes,” already own their own bikes. The leaves casual bikers and tourists “none of which will use the service enough to be financially meaningful,” especially given the hills and rain.
The most frustrating aspect of the plan to buy the failed bike company is that the city would be pumping good money after bad at a time when money is needed elsewhere. Rantz,
“Let’s also not forget we’re in the midst of a homeless crisis. Is now the time to buy a failed business – so bad the federal government refuses to give us grants for – when we could be using the funding for more shelters? Even if you want to keep the funding in the transportation category (we can, after-all, attack homeless and transportation issues at the same time), wouldn’t this money be better spent on expanding bus services, something that actually works and is in demand? We should be doing more for buses, not for bikes.”
Seattle’s problem with homelessness has been on the public’s radar. Given the lack of solutions presented, that Seattle is even considering spending $1.4 million to bailout and expand a failed bike share company is, simply put, irresponsible.