Seattle ends funding for electric bike-share program

The city of Seattle just ended its funding for a new, electric bike-share program.

A spokesman for Mayor Ed Murray would only say they felt the several million dollars intended for the program could be used in a "better way" for other pedestrian and cycle investments.

The current Pronto bike share – one that received a $1.4 million dollar city council bailout last year – will end as scheduled on March 31st.

The city was in negotiations with Bewegen, the electric bike share vendor, and hoped to transition to the electric bike share program, which came with a $5 million price tag for 1,200 bikes.

The Pronto bike share program it was expected to replace hit multiple bumps in the road.

It was involved in multiple ethics violations by Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly. Pronto is owned by the company Kubly formerly worked for, and after an investigation Kubly and the city reached a $5,000 settlement for the violations.

Follow this link for additional details on the Seattle Department of Transportation Director's violations of ethics rules.

Pronto had ridership far below expectations and was a failing effort. Last May, a Seattle Times report showed even the bike-share director and transportation chief weren't members of the program they promoted. The article showed fewer than 1 percent of city employees held Pronto memberships.

Early last year, some City Councilmembers demanded to know why the city spent more than $300,000 to keep the Pronto bike share program when it wasn’t doing well – and for spending the money without notifying the council.

But that was before the majority of city councilmembers approved the $1.4 million bailout, despite the meager ridership numbers.

In September, KIRO 7 asked SDOT's Transportation and Mobility Director, Andrew Glass Hastings, how the city decided that electric pedal assist bikes were a wise investment.

“If there's no data on how many more people in Seattle would use these electric assisted bikes, how did you decide on this company?” KIRO 7 asked.

“Don’t get me wrong. There is data. There is data that the city has put together, there's data that the vendor has put together in their proposal,” he said at the time. “I’m not prepared to speak to that right here off the cuff.”

“Oh, studies in Seattle?” KIRO 7 asked.

“Yes,” he responded.

Glass Hastings said a minute later that he would have to check on whether there had been a study done in Seattle specifically.

That same week, according to a public disclosure request, KIRO 7 discovered that Seattle City Council members received more than 30 emails against the new electric bike share program and none in favor.

Glass Hastings later confirmed that there is no data on electric pedal assist bikes’ feasibility in Seattle.

“Why not do a study for this?” KIRO 7 asked.

“Seattle's a great place,” he said. “There's no reason to think that bike share -- in 104 cities around the country-- working in those cities, there's no reason to think it can’t work here. We think the pedal assist technology is just the sort of the additional element that's going to increase the appeal of bike share here in Seattle.”

But when KIRO 7 asked Mayor Murray about the lack of research on electric pedal assist bikes in Seattle, he was not worried. He said the city had failed in not making the Pronto system big enough.

“We got something wrong with the model that we tried in this city, but I think bike share can be very successful,” he said.

Murray also mentioned New York City’s bike share program, Citibike.

“No one would have ever imagined Manhattan as a bicycle haven,” he said. “If Manhattan can be a bicycle haven, Seattle can.”

KIRO 7 checked and found that Citibike does not use public money. Instead, it runs on millions in private investments, sponsorships, and its revenue.

See the earlier interview with Glass Hastings below.

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