Lack of sponsors may force Portland to bail out bike share program

Lack of sponsors may force Portland to bail out bike share program »Play Video
The city of Portland wants to model its bike share program after the one in New York that is shown here. New York's program is sponsored by Citi Bank. Portland is having trouble getting the sponsorship it needs for its program and is considering loaning money to the project.

PORTLAND, Ore. - A new bike share program was supposed to be launched without taxpayers footing the bill, but now the city may be bailing it out.

A program approved by City Council was supposed to launch this past spring, but there's been a lot of problems.

The first phase for bike rental stations calls for them to be at various places in the city, including near the Willamette River and downtown. The stations are supposed to match up where bikes are used the most. But some neighborhoods could be left out.

It's supposed to be self-sufficient but KATU’s news gathering partners at Willamette Week discovered through city documents that Portland is considering stepping in financially.

The city wants a bike share program like the one in New York. The Big Apple’s bikes are sponsored by Citi Bank.

Portland and the company that would run the program here are hoping for similar corporate love. But the documents Willamette Week obtained raise questions.

"First, they're having trouble finding those corporate sponsorship dollars," said Willamette Week reporter Aaron Mesh. "And even if they find it in time, most of the money will come in so incrementally that it will not be ready for a 2014 launch date. So the city of Portland is considering loaning the money up front."

The bike share program will cost $4.7 million to launch. The city already has $2 million in federal funds. That leaves a $2.7 million gap sponsors need to fill.

If there is any shortfall, the city might have to finance it. If that happens, it would be under the recommendation of Transportation Bureau Commissioner Steve Novick.

"I want people to know nobody has signed off on anything," he said. "We're working towards a deal, if a deal happens at all, that will be consistent with principles of fiscal responsibility and equity."

By equity, Novick's talking about the poorer parts of the city being left out of the initial plan.

The city says for the launch of the program to work, it has to be easy to use. That means the stations where riders pick their bikes up have to be close to the stations where they drop them off. The city says a lot of people have to be able to use it. And that means the population density of the city core.

To a question if he's concerned that Phase One of the program will alienate the poorer parts of the city, Novick said: "We should not have a map for bike share, which is limited to the richer parts of the city. We've made that point strongly."

There're a lot of negotiations going on between the city, the company that would run bike share, Alta, and potential sponsors.

The more that sign on, the less of a potential a city loan would be.

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