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Monday, June 9, 2014

PBOT Has Pulled Its Questionable Application for More Bike Share Funding

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Mon, Jun 9, 2014 at 2:14 PM

Remember in November, when the Portland Bureau of Transportation applied for $2 million in state lottery funds to help pay for a theoretical expansion of the city's theoretical bike share system? The application [PDF] included a bold claim, which has since proven objectively false: That Portland had already found roughly $5.5 million in sponsorships to purchase a system and run it for five years.

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As we reported last week, no sponsorships have been announced for bike share, and there's no indication any agreements have been reached. Kaiser Permanente, the health care provider rumored to have been on the verge of signing a sponsorship, now says that isn't even on its radar.

Earlier this year, we raised questions over the truthfulness of the PBOT application with the Oregon Department of Transportation, which administers the ConnectOregon grant funds PBOT was applying for. Others have complained to ODOT in recent months, too. ConnectOregon officials repeatedly acknowledged public concerns, but allowed the application to carry on, unimpeded. In fact, Portland's bid for more bike share money was ranked fourth among all applications for bike/pedestrian projects this year, following only projects that earned a highest-possible "Tier 1" designation. (It still faced steep odds of being chosen. ConnectOregon has only $42 million to dish out this year, and $126 million in requests.)

Not anymore. On Friday, PBOT sent word it was formally pulling the application, blaming the shifting sands that have plagued Portland's quest for a bike share program. The Mercury's obtained a copy of an email Gabe Graff, operations and safety manager for PBOT's Active Transportation division, sent to ODOT officials.

"I wanted to ask you to withdraw our ConnectOregon bike share application from further consideration," Graff wrote. "Portland Bike Share has not proceeded as we expected when we originally submitted the application and in the unlikely event that we would have been awarded funds, we wouldn’t be able to utilize them as initially described."

Reached today, Graff confirmed the cancellation, but wouldn't talk further about the situation without speaking with PBOT's communications staff.

The ConnectOregon application isn't the only instance of officials acting as though sponsorships were a done deal. Around the same time, PBOT cut a $40,000 check to Alta Bicycle Share, the company tasked with bringing bike share to Portland. The money was tied to a "system finance report" that, according to the city's contract with Alta, was to be submitted "with 100% of funds secured to acquire, install and operate a 75 station, 750 bike System for five years."

But the difficulty in inking sponsorship agreements has been the single-largest challenge in getting bike share up and running. The program was supposed to launch in spring 2013, but has been delayed twice. It's now scheduled to launch next year.

Update, 12:24 pm, Tuesday: PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera just issued a statement on this situation to the Mercury.

As we have stated earlier, at the time we made the grant application, we had sponsorship commitments at the highest level. We withdrew the Connect Oregon grant application recently because significant changes in the bike share industry have caused the City and sponsors to reconsider the project's timeline. We have had clear and frequent communication with ODOT staff throughout the process. We continue our due diligence and look forward to launching the right bike share system for Portland.

If Rivera's mentioned that the city once had active sponsorship commitments "at the highest level," it hasn't been in numerous conversations with the Mercury. In fact, every time we've talked about this with PBOT—including asking specific questions about exactly how strong sponsorship prospects for bike share were, and whether they were actually "secured" as stated in the ConnectOregon application—Rivera has demurred.

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