By Kathryn Papp, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
The success of Capital Bikeshare is a testament to the foresight of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which seeded the program by offering cities funding for both capital expenses — bikes and stations — as well as operating costs in the form of maintenance, software, trucking, etc. This full coverage funding was gradually cut back to include only capital expenses and balanced by increasing funds for creating bike lanes for all riders.
Now, the seed program is sun setting and looking to the private sector to carry on, and it has, sort of. In 2014, Bikeshare Holdings, LLC was established with investments from two CEOs at Related Companies, a large real estate company, with an asset portfolio in excess of $14 billion.
Motivate, a fitness company, is taking over operations management with the intent to immediately work to turn a profit and address operating issues. This may mean rising membership and usage fees, which has occurred in New York City.
The governments of Portland, Ore. and New York City have attracted private sponsors: Citibank supports the operation in the Big Apple, and Nike is sponsoring Portland. This is necessary to cover the costs inherent in the current pricing scheme, as noted by a Motivate consultant.
The City of Alexandria faces a challenging financial environment, but it has allocated $2.5 million from local real estate taxes to fund its share of Capital Bikeshare. What do we pay for? Station installation, maintenance and replacement parts, trucks, drivers who circulate twice a day and eventually helmets. These costs only will grow with expansion.
It was to the city’s credit that expansion was halted for a time. Now, their aggressive and negligent expansion of this program should stop, until the program managers on staff can prove it will be fully paid for through private sector funding.
And in the process, the city must correct the many violations of city ordinances, federal mandates, equity issues and lost civic trust that has resulted from deliberately evading and misleading residents and decision makers with deceptive information and surprise station placements.
A small example: in one recent document, Alexandria’s Bikeshare membership was reported at 17,000, but a page later it was given as 734. Which number should we believe?
Finally, bicycling advocates are right to advance a ridership program focused on getting whole cities on bicycles, specifically their own. Most people own their own bikes and ride them because they like them.
The clunky, heavy, ill-equipped bicycles that Bikeshare has unloaded on the city only hold back what could be and — in the face of climate change — should be a fully shared citywide activity. Think what the Federation of Civic Associations, together with citizen cycling advocates, and city officials together could do with $2.5 million.
Put our real estate taxes to better use. Create a cycling program that benefits everyone, and one done in a cooperative spirit of excellence and fair play. Certain public employees need to stop being driven by politics and start being motivated by excellence and responsibility to all residents of Alexandria.