Today Brenda Konkel asked both mayoral candidates some pointed questions about the Trek-run "B-Cycle, LLC" bike share program:
Sure, its cool but . . . is it a good idea to make a sole source deal with Trek to provide bike kiosks for the City of Madison at a cost of $300,000 ($100,000 from this year’s contingent reserve) to the taxpayer in this current economy? Should there have been an RFP, why or why not? Is it appropriate to use money from the contingent reserve?
First some perspective:
Bicycle sharing systems are not new to Madison. After the first modern effort was introduced in the Netherlands in the late 1960’s, Wisconsin’s capital city, as did Paris, followed suit with the yellow bicycle program. This effort of fixing up old bikes and painting them an identifiable color was repeated with the red bicycles found on Madison’s streets in the 1990’s.
Since then, a number of more effective programs were introduced in Europe and subsequently the United States.
The fact is, this idea has merit and represents a sensible step forward compared to the earlier bicycle sharing models: The bicycles will be new and well maintained. While not free, the rentals are reasonable and convenient, available to both Madison residents and visitors.
The problem with this is not the idea of bike sharing. Rather, the problem with the Cieslewicz proposal is that it plays fast and loose with a number of reasonable and long-standing checks and balances; it circumvents established budgetary and fiscal practices; and it presents challenges in terms of other values Madisonians hold dear.
We are told that this proposal must be adopted within four weeks of introduction. There will be no bidding on the contract. The funds will come from the contingency reserve fund. There may also be advertising that will violate the Madison sign ordinance and commercial use of the public parks.
Here’s what should happen:
The proposal should be properly referred to City committees. That will allow for discussion of a number of critical issues and the opportunity to get critical questions answered:
- The contingent reserve fund is for emergencies –overtime for police and fire and snow removal. Why is this an emergency?
- If the cost of the project is $100,000 for each of three years why shouldn’t the project stand on its own merits and go through the budget process?
- Why wasn’t this proposal put out to bid? Given the number of bicycle sharing programs in the United States and Europe, this is not a single source item. There is absolutely no justification for ignoring the RFP and bidding process simply because this is a last minute proposal.
- Why should the city pay for the program? If a private company is going to use public property to store and lease the bicycles, it seems that they should be paying the city, not the other way around.
- If it is true that the company managing the program is going to rent the space they have on public property, including the parks to advertisers, then we need a public discussion about how extensively we will allow advertising on public property, especially if it violates the billboard ordinance.
Every progressive city maintains high ethical standards. We need to discuss the payment of the mayor’s recent trip to Europe by a bicycle industry group particularly now that a member of that group is getting this no bid-contract. We should not have different standards for green industries as opposed to other industries seeking to do business with Madison.
The B-Cycle bike sharing program is an incredible opportunity for Madison. Bike sharing is a hallmark of a world class city – one where companies want to invest, locate or attract talented professionals. It represents the kinds of smart investments we can make now to ensure that we are a leader in the new economy. And, it supports a great local company that brings jobs to our region.
Trek is offering to make the $1.4 million investment to set up the program and will manage it. And, they do not expect to make any money off the program. In fact, at least for the first few years, they expect a financial loss. But, because they are located in the area and Madison is important to them, they want to try their product here, even if it means losing money. Trek has also agreed to open it’s financial books and if they do make a profit, it will be split evenly with the city.
In addition, because Trek is the only company in the country that not only offers the infrastructure for bike sharing, but also offers unique GPS technology, it is appropriate under city ordinance to do a sole source contract. That’s why it’s gained the approval of BOE and the Pedestrian Bicycle Motor Vehicle Commission.
This is the kind of thing that gives a city a competitive edge in the new economy. So much of our success in the new economy is about keeping Madison a progressive, green, and bike-friendly city. Few other places can offer this combination, and that’s exactly what will attract and retain talent. And it will reduce carbon emissions in Madison and help us reach out goal of increasing bike share to 20% by 2020.
The program will also have an immediate economic benefit. Local businesses will be more easily accessible for those who carpool or use public transit. Trek is creating jobs right here in Madison to service the B-Cycle system.
And let’s not forget, Trek is giving Madison an incredible deal for this one-of-a-kind system. It has enormous potential for our city, and I look forward to community input to determine locations and overall implementation of the system.
These are not trivial issues. Go to Brenda's site to read some very interesting discussion of them in the comments.
UPDATE: Madison Guy reads these and reacts: "When I hear the words "Madison" and "world class city" in the same sentence, I reach for my BS meter."
To be fair, Cieslewicz put them in the same paragraph in adjacent sentences.
UPDATE #2: The Wisconsin State Journal has the story of Brenda's complaints about the ethics of the process:
Former Madison Ald. Brenda Konkel, a vocal advocate for open government,has filed a series of complaints alleging violations of the city's lobbying regulation law involving a proposed bike-share program up for approval at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
Konkel said at least four people associated with Madison's proposed B Cycle bike-share program, including those representing Trek Bicycle Corp., did not register as lobbyists with the city but attended meetings and pledged to evaluate such a program.
"The fact that it's all been done behind the scenes is the problem," said Konkel, who also objected to the project not going out for bid. "It's hard because this looks like a cool project. (But) just because it's a cool project, we can't ignore the rules."
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said it's unclear if there were any violations to the law, and if so, they were "inadvertent" and a representative from Trek plans to register as a lobbyist soon.
If the comments at the WSJ are any indication, this should be a very hotly-debated item at the City Council on Tuesday night.
- Barry Orton