City’s Transportation Bureau Paid Contractor $299,000 to Develop App It Won’t Use

“We could not in good faith deliver our services reliably, timely, or consistently using the software solution this vendor was developing,” wrote a bureau manager.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation paid a Canadian-based software developer $299,000 over two years to develop an app for a program that subsidizes and offers discounts for bus passes, electric-scooter rentals, and other alternative forms of transportation. But in a letter to volunteers yesterday, bureau officials conceded they were canceling the contract—and would not get the city’s money back.

“We have made the difficult decision to terminate our contract with the software vendor that was developing the [app]....The software vendor was not able to meet our needs on numerous occasions during key milestones of the project,” wrote Renata Tirta, a division manager for the bureau, in a Nov. 27 letter obtained by WW. “We could not in good faith deliver our services reliably, timely, or consistently using the software solution this vendor was developing.”

The city will not recoup the $299,000 it spent on the app, bureau spokeswoman Hannah Schafer says.

For several years now, the city has run a program in the Northwest and Central Eastside parking districts called “Transportation Wallet,” which offers credits and passes for alternative transportation such as TriMet buses, ride shares and e-scooters. (It is also available to low-income Portlanders and those living in new multifamily apartment buildings, regardless of neighborhood.)

The city in 2021 decided to find a contractor to develop an app that could make the program easier to use. After a competitive bid process, PBOT chose a software development company called RideShark, which appears to be headquartered in Ottawa, Canada. Its charge: build a web and mobile app for the city’s program.

The city allocated $100,000 each from the Northwest and Central Eastside parking districts to fund the contract (revenue that comes primarily from the sale of parking passes in those districts) and funded the remainder of the contract with bureau dollars.

But the contract appears to have gone awry at some point this year.

Tirta added in her letter Monday that the bureau didn’t realize just how expensive the software would be to use on an ongoing basis, and that the city arrived at its decision to terminate the contract “after exhausting every avenue to course-correct the arrangement.”

The failed contract is yet another financial hit for the floundering Transportation Bureau, which next year faces a $32 million budget deficit due to declining parking revenues and gas taxes—two funding sources that will all but certainly tumble even more in years to come.

It’s also added another crack in an already fractured relationship between the Northwest Parking District and PBOT. Last month, the bureau “paused” the district’s advisory committee, much to the chagrin of the citizen committee, citing both financial difficulties and issues around poor communication and “respect for fellow members and staff.”

Northwest parking committee member Todd Zarnitz tells WW: “Evaporating $100,000 in Northwest Parking District money on a dubious app builds the case that our neighborhood resources are being mismanaged” by the city.

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