Here's the question that must be answered if Portland's stalled plans for a bike rental system, like the set-ups in Paris or Washington, D.C., are to be more than talk: Who's got the money?
So far, money talk has been conspicuously absent from the bike-rental discussion in Portland. Today's news from the north suggests why: If memories of Portland's theft-plagued yellow bike project didn't turn people off to the idea, sticker shock would.
The Vancouver, B.C. Sunreports on a bike rental study completed for the regional transit authority, which found that "a bike rental program could be 'successful, well-used and financially viable' in certain [densely populated] Vancouver neighbourhoods."
Swell. But get this: The Sun says "direct operating costs for a fleet of 3,800 bikes at 250 docking stations would be about $10 million a year." Vancouver officials don't yet know who might foot that bill.
It's important to note that $10 million—about $9.4 million in U.S. dollars—is far, far more than the $400,000-odd a year Portland spends on bicycle programs. It nears the $11 million a year the Portland Police Bureau spends on the 73-officer traffic safety division.
Granted, Portland's rental fleet was to include only 500 bikes. Using the Vancouver estimates as a baseline, that would still be another $1 million and change out of an already crunched city of Portland budget.
Commissioner Sam Adams, who heads the Portland Office of Transportation, says he wants to increase the city's bike budget, but rising fuel prices and climbing construction costs seem to have shelved that idea.
More problematic, Adams' earlier bike-rental concepts have been contingent on the city not fronting any money.
We'll venture a prediction here: Citywide bike rentals are unlikely to get rolling here without some public funding. Look at Zipcar: Nearly a decade after its founding, the car-share company still loses money—even though it offers a pretty good deal for many urbanites.
Paris's privately financed bike rental system, the Velib, is also apparently starting to hit some snags.
Which doesn't mean bike rentals would be bad for Portland. Maybe the idea just needs some sexy/creepy Paris-style promotions: