Rasmussen Drops Bike-Share Bill; Funding Proving More Difficult to Wrangle

The launch of Seattle’s bike-share program in Spring 2014 is widely considered a given at this point. But doing so will require tweaks to Seattle’s Municipal Code - tweaks that Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen attempts to address in the bike-share legislation he dropped this morning.

Obtaining the full $4 million in funding the program needs to take off, however, may prove slightly more difficult than changing the city’s code. Though a new private sponsor is set to be announced late this week or early next week, according to Holly Houser, the executive director of Puget Sound Bike Share, the effort still needs “some big-money sponsors” to meet its goal.

Rasmussen’s legislation, Council Bill No. 117847, which is scheduled to be heard July 23 in the transportation committee he chairs, would amend Seattle Municipal Code to allow for Bike Share vending on city streets and sidewalks. The bill would also allow for permits to be issued authorizing the use of curb space or other parking spaces for bike-share stations. Currently, Municipal Code forbids both activities - which are obviously needed to get Seattle’s bike-share program off the ground. Both changes are considered minor; the legislation seems like little more than a formality.

The bigger hurdle, according to Houser, may be finding all the money needed to launch the program.

Puget Sound Bike Share is a public-private nonprofit created in 2012 that’s tasked with overseeing the birthing of Seattle’s bike-share program. In April 2013, the nonprofit chose Portland’s Alta Bicycle Share as its operator and vendor, with the plan being to launch a bike-sharing network beginning with approximately 500 bikes and 50 stations throughout the city by early 2014. According to Houser, it’ll take roughly $4 million to do so. Half of that money is scheduled to come from public grants, with the rest coming through private sponsorships.

On the public grant front, things have progressed nicely. Houser notes that Seattle has been awarded a $1 million federal grant from the Puget Sound Regional Council, and a $750,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation - meaning $1.75 million is in the bank.

Houser, however, says there’s still plenty of work to do when it comes to attracting corporate sponsorship to cover the other $2 million. She says a sponsor making a “fairly significant” investment will be announced later this week or early next week, but more is needed if Seattle’s bike share is to be fully funded by the expected Spring 2014 launch.

“We’re getting to this point now that we really need some corporate sponsors,” says Houser, who says “a number of conversations” are currently in the works to this end. “We need some big-money sponsors,” she says.

If Puget Sound Bike Share fails to reach its $4 million goal, Houser says there’s a possibility the bike share could be rolled out on a smaller scale. However, she says such a scenario is “really not ideal.”

“You kind of need to have a critical mass of stations and bikes” for a bike share to be effective, she says.

“If we don’t have the funds, we’ll have to make some tough decisions,” Houser says, maintaining that Puget Sound Bike Share remains confident the corporate sponsors will materialize.

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