We at the Mercury have been accused more than once of obsessing over Portland's efforts to implement bike share. I'd argue we're no more interested than other news organizations in town—most of the city's media outlets have covered the project extensively. But I'd also argue the quest for bike share lends itself to that kind of scrutiny—partly because of the tempestuous troubles and heartening successes in other cities, but also largely because the process has been so damn opaque.
Alta Bicycle Share, the Portland outfit tapped to find funding and set up a 750-bike system, is loath to say much about progress. And as we reported this week, the Portland Bureau of Transportation isn't even telling the public how much the system could cost at this point. The whole process has been thrown off since a company Alta assumed would supply the system declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
But perhaps no question around bike share has been as hotly pursued as who will fund it. Beginning in early 2013, Alta began seeking out some $5.5 million in private sponsorships to buy a system and run it for five years. There have been a lot of rumors regarding healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente, but no firm announcements. That's especially strange, since it appears the city's had a fully-fleshed out funding plan in its possession since November.
According to an invoice obtained by the Mercury, Alta billed the city $40,000 on November 13, after it had submitted a "system finance plan." See?
The city's contract with Alta [PDF] makes clear that report had to be submitted "with 100% of funds secured to acquire, install and operate a 75 station, 750 bike System for five years." If Alta couldn't find enough money for that large a system, the two parties would "negotiate a scaled approach."
But if 100 percent of funds were secured back in November, that's not been the message from city hall and Alta. In a Dec. 4 memo first reported by Willamette Week, Alta Vice President Mia Birk wrote the company was "continuing to make progress on resolving the outstanding issues of the agreement." And after the system's preferred supplier, Montreal-based Public Bike System Company, entered bankruptcy in January, PBOT issued a statement that "the city remains focused on closing a deal with our title sponsor, the key milestone we need to be able to launch the Portland bike-share system."
But back on Nov. 21, the city filed an application for ODOT grant funding, and wrote money had been secured for the system.
So what's with the disconnect? Did Alta submit—and get paid for—a report that didn't meet the terms of the contract? If the money's been secured since November, how come we've not progressed further in purchasing a system (it's now slated for next year)?
The Mercury, obsessed as ever, has put these questions to PBOT.