To the editor:
The public relations campaign for Capital Bikeshare conceals the city’s failed due diligence on the troubled company running Alexandria’s program and its projected growing costs.
Bikeshare’s main operation is embroiled in repaying the city of Montreal a $32 million startup loan and responding to a $28 million lawsuit from its software vendor. It’s selling off international systems throughout Europe, as well as in New York City and Chicago.
It is unclear where Alexandria’s Bikeshare stands in all this, but nonetheless, the city intends to expand this system at the expense of libraries and parks that benefit all residents.
It is expected that 960,000 people will visit Alexandria’s libraries next year; this is 53 times the number of Bikeshare members in the region. Yet the city is cutting libraries by $93,000 and giving Bikeshare $120,000.
Last year, Alexandria’s Bikeshare program was fully covered by federal grants, but operating costs were discontinued in April 2012. The city’s solution is to rely on $70,000 from real estate taxes and a $50,000 developer payment. The Bikeshare budget is still short $66,000.
Every other city uses dedicated sponsors to cover operating costs, but not Alexandria. Using real estate taxes to support a financially troubled private company and a program with projected yearly losses is unconscionable. Using half a million of tax dollars to update the 2008 bike plan, when federal funds are available for bike planning, is poor judgment.
City Hall doesn’t seem to have control of this program. City staff claims that Alexandria’s ridership and revenues have exceeded Arlington’s, which has six times as many stations and bikes, lack credibility.
Others experience something similar. From Arlington: “… The magnitude of the potential shortfalls in operating revenues associated with the planned expansion has led to … securing additional sources of operating revenue.” A University of Maryland official stated: “Alta Bicycle Share, the company that manages the Capital Bikeshare programs, has proposed additional launch expenses of $60,000 to $100,000 that were not part of the initial contract.”
Bikeshare is not a city-owned service like DASH buses and the King Street Trolley. It is owned and operated by a private company. This is why Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, where 7,000 bikes are due next month, required that no taxpayer money fund Bikeshare. He wants no financial liability for the city.
Alexandria can create a bicycle culture using the many grants available for planning and building infrastructure. Real estate tax dollars should be used for residents and their children on things like libraries, parks, and our depleted open space fund.
- Kathryn Papp