Pronto and the 2nd Ave bike lane launched around the same time. Neither has since expanded as planned.
The hard deadline to save Pronto is March 30.
With more than 30,000 people taking 144,000 trips in the first year of operations, supporters and City Councilmembers are scratching their heads trying to figure out how Pronto got into such a dire situation with hardly any warning to the public.
Ridership in the first year was lower than projected, though many people involved are now questioning how realistic those projections were. A little over half of operating costs are paid by user fees, less than was planned. That’s a problem, sure, but likely not insurmountable through adjustments in station locations, expanded marketing, winning grants, growing sponsorships and/or city investment.
So here’s where the story gets very frustrating. How did a solvable problem turn into a do-or-die budget showdown in City Council chambers? The answer depends on who you ask.
SDOT staff, led by Chief of Active Transportation Nicole Freedman, blamed the budget gap on the amount of funding Puget Sound Bike Share (“PSBS,” the non-profit that owns Pronto) borrowed to launch the system, payments that now sap the budget.
“[Pronto’s operations] would break even today if it were city run and there were no debt payments,” said Freedman told us last week.
But former PSBS Executive Director Holly Houser disagrees with this characterization of the loan.
“They’re making it sound like we took out this huge loan, ” said Houser, who says it was actually a fairly standard loan against the sponsorship. So basically, if Alaska Airlines puts up $2.5 million over five years, you take out a loan to get the money up front, then use the subsequent sponsorship payments to pay off the loan.
The biggest cause of the showdown, Houser said, came from city delays and miscommunications in taking over the system that have left Pronto in a leadership (and revenue search) limbo.
“Our hands were essentially tied.” Continue reading