Seattle City Council members split 4-2 in a committee vote Tuesday on whether the city should buy the Pronto bike-sharing program.
Should Seattle rescue the struggling Pronto bike-sharing program or let it go? The City Council is split.
Council members voted 4-2 at a transportation-committee meeting Tuesday in favor of a Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) request to buy Pronto for $1.4 million.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who chairs the committee, voted for purchase, as did Rob Johnson, Kshama Sawant and Debora Juarez. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Tim Burgess voted against the plan.
“I really wish we weren’t in this position,” O’Brien said. “(But) I think the cost difference of letting (Pronto) die versus keeping it going is relatively modest.”
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The committee vote initially was recorded as a 3-3 tie, but two days later was clarified.
The full council will take up the proposed purchase March 14 , O’Brien said.
Funded by public and private dollars plus memberships and passes, Pronto is managed by a nonprofit and operated by contractor Motivate. It launched with fanfare in October 2014 with 500 bikes and about 50 stations in the University District, Capitol Hill and downtown Seattle.
But ridership fell short of expectations. Most bikes are ridden less than once a day.
But the grant didn’t come through and the council put Murray’s allocation on hold pending more information from SDOT on how to best grow the program.
The nonprofit managing Pronto had meanwhile stopped raising money on its own.
In January, documents showed Pronto had run out of money and would soon shut down without help from the city. Then last month, council members were surprised to discover SDOT had already spent $305,000 in street-use fees to prop up the program.
The ordinance voted on Tuesday would release $1.4 million of the $5 million allocation to allow SDOT to buy Pronto.
Then the mayor would issue a new request for proposals for a contractor to expand or deploy the program. Based on responses, Murray could ask the council for the rest of the $5 million later this year.
In voting for that plan, Johnson noted other means of transportation are publicly subsidized, “including cars, buses, trains and airplanes.”
He said the city should expand Pronto beyond neighborhoods popular with tourists and students to connect straphangers with bus stops and light-rail stations.
The committee rejected a proposal by Herbold to let Pronto go and spend most of the $5 million on other bike and pedestrian projects while leaving the door open for a private company to expand bike-sharing in Seattle. Herbold said buying an unsuccessful program wouldn’t be the best use of taxpayer money.
The committee also rejected a proposal by Burgess to seek a new public-private partnership for bike-sharing rather than buying Pronto outright.
Burgess said a partnership would be better than going completely private because a private owner might not ensure equitable access across neighborhoods and incomes.
Information in this article, originally published March 1, 2016, was corrected March 3, 2016. The vote initially was incorrectly announced as a tie by committee chair Mike O’Brien.