Opinion Your Views — 18 April 2013
Supporting Capital Bikeshare comes at the cost of other priorities

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
Alexandria

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(8) Readers Comments

  1. Repeating the same thing over and over again does not make it true.

  2. Let’s do this one more time.
    - There is no company called Bikeshare (or Capital Bikeshare).

    - Capital Bikeshare is a series of publicly-funded initiatives in Arlington, D.C., and Alexandria. The three jurisdictions own all of the bicycles and station infrastructure. The governments get all of the money that users pay for memberships or usage fees.

    - Alta Bicycle Share has received contracts from Arlington, Alexandria, and D.C., to maintain, service, and rebalance bicycles, as well as provide other services. They are paid on a regular basis by the governments to maintain the fleets. When Alta enters into a contract with a new city, they are typically using infrastructure from Public Bike System.

    - Public Bike System (BiXi) is a company in Quebec that makes the bikes and stations that DC, Arlington, and Alexandria purchase to expand the system. The only system that they own or operate (as far as I know) is the one in Montreal. They don’t own any in Canada or Chicago. The impacts of Bixi’s financial problems have only one impact in DC, Arlington, or Alexandria, and that is to slow down the ability to get more bikes or stations faster.

    - Saying that this is using real estate funds to support a financially distressed company is like saying the same thing about DASH buses or the trolley if they were built by GM. Bixi has no relationship with Capital Bikeshare once the stations are delivered.

    - The only American city with a bikeshare system that does not use public funds is NYC, and they have not yet launched (and they are still doing things like providing the space for stations).

    • Totally wrong. Anyone curious about the relationship between ABS (a U.S. shell), Bixi, and PBSC can google their way to the Montreal Gazette articles on this outfit.

      • Joe- I took your advice and checked the Montral Gazette, and it supports Jacques description of PBSC (Bixi): “The PBSC is the private company, controlled by the city of Montreal, that created Bixi for Montreal and went on to sell bike-sharing systems around the world.” “Montreal has put the PBSC’s international business up for sale.” As Jacques indicated, the impact in DC, Arlington and Alexandria is the delay in receiving bikes and stations ordered from Bixi. (FYI – Montgomery County is next in line in our area.)

        Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Financial+problems+plague+Bixi+Toronto/8251189/story.html#ixzz2R2YOj3mX

        Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Financial+problems+plague+Bixi+Toronto/8251189/story.html#ixzz2R2XRllTK

      • Or Joe, you could tell us what it was. But I’ll save you the trouble. Bixi is the product created by PBSC – so they’re one and the same. ABS is an American company, and PBSC’s partner, but is not an American “shell”. Capital Bikeshare is owned by DC, Arlington and Alexandria. They have hired PBSC to provide Bixi bikes and ABS to manage the system. CaBi could fire them if they chose to.

  3. Wow. Fact check next time. This is brutally inaccurate.

  4. Its amazing so much got printed here that’s factually incorrect. See above.

    I’m also puzzled by some of the misleading arguments.

    “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.”

    OK I’m guessing 960,000 people is actually 960,000 visits (some people visit libraries more than once a year) so a fair comparison would be 960,000 visits last year against Capital Bikeshare’s 1,851,857 trips from Sept. 2011 through Sept. 2012, only the 2nd year of operation. Its double the libraries visits. The systems keeps growing, so that number of rides will be a lot higher this fiscal year.Several days ago we had over 11,000 on one day.

    “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.”

    I don’t have the data for # of rides rides in Alexandria, but 66K or 120K vs the well over 6 million for libraries in 2012 is almost a rounding error. But what really bothers me is comparing Bikeshare’s budget to the library budget. That makes little sense. Sure the county’s budget is fungible, but its part of transportation and that’s what it should be compared to and that’s in the tens of millions.

    Look, Bikeshare in the Washington region is a HUGE success any virtually any measure. Its also a lot cheaper than running a library and helps keep cars off the streets which lessens traffic for all of us.

  5. Dear Kathryn Papp,

    This is one awful piece you wrote. Let’s look past that and simply take in the jist of your note: Don’t take money away from the libraries to fund Capital Bikeshare. Fair enough. Of course, money isn’t being taken from them but…

    Maybe you could write another letter so we get a better sense of what you meant. Thanks. Looking forward to it.

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