Morning Fizz

Seattle Department of Transportation Makes Its Pronto Pitch

Pronto supporters on council and in audience have several caveats.

By Josh Feit February 22, 2016

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1. The Seattle Department of Transportation made its big Pronto pitch to the city council’s transportation committee Friday afternoon: SDOT wants the city to spend $1.4 million to buy the nonprofit bike share company, take over the infrastructure of the 500-bike system, and then put out an operations contract bid.

“It would have been good to have had this discussion three months ago,” committee chair Mike O’Brien scolded SDOT for not bringing council into the loop earlier about Pronto’s dire financial straits. The company will go under next month if the city–which unbeknownst to council already kept Pronto alive by paying its $305,000 vendor bill for last December, January, and February—doesn’t buy them.

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Council member Tim Burgess wanted to know why Pronto’s current vendor, a bike share company called Motivate (which is likely to bid on the contract), couldn’t pony up some of the $1.4 million themselves right now if they're so invested in the system—and share some of the financial risk. Motivate testified at the hearing on Friday that they would be willing to take on the financial risk, as they do with other bike share contracts around the country.

SDOT director Scott Kubly said he preferred to maintain city leverage right now by getting a host of bids, so SDOT can oversee bike share expansion with city goals in mind—such as equity and coordinating bike stations along transit lines.

The council committee, which ultimately seemed supportive of taking over the bike system, didn’t vote on Friday (O’Brien said they still needed time to evaluate the math and, per Burgess's request, the city's financial risk.) O'Brien left SDOT with the caveat that council was only likely to approve the deal if the council gets to oversee the city request for bidders.

Before the hearing, several transit advocates, including Seattle Transit Blog's Zach Shaner (speaking on his own behalf), Seattle Greenways leader Cathy Tuttle, and a 67-year-old Pronto member, testified in favor of buying Pronto. They had caveats too, though: Arguing that the system would only succeed if expansion was done correctly by focusing on the "first-mile, last-mile" principle by supplementing transit stops and by building bike stations concentrically out from the city core rather than in vertical lines that impede a wide network. 

There were critics, though, including Sara Mae Brereton, the owner of 701 Coffee on 23rd Avenue in the Central Area, who seized the opportunity to point out that a stumbling businesses like Pronto shouldn't be getting SDOT money while her business was going under due to SDOT construction work. Brereton's 701 Coffee was one of several 23rd Avenue businesses that came to the council last week asking for construction mitigation money to save their struggling shops

2. Learn to trust the Fizz. Former (three-time) U.S. congressional candidate Darcy Burner made it official today and announced she’s running for the state legislature. Burner, who ran against U.S. representative Dave Reichert (R-WA, 8) in 2006 and 2008, and ran again in 2012 in the redrawn First Congressional District, losing in the Democratic primary round to now U.S. representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1), is now running for the open seat in the fifth legislative district in Seattle’s eastside suburbs against Republican Paul Graves. The current Republican incumbent, Chad Magendanz (R-5, Issaquah) is leaving the seat to run against Democratic state senator Mark Mullet (D-5, Issaquah).

The other Republican representative from the fifth district, Jay Rodne (R-5, Snoqualmie) is facing two Democratic challengers for his seat.

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