published Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Chattanooga's bike share program must pull its own weight


by Cliff Hightower
Meghan Pittman bikes across the pedestrian bridge.
Meghan Pittman bikes across the pedestrian bridge.
BIKE SHARE BUDGET

Expenses as of March 13:

• Capital equipment: $992,962

• Launch operations: $412,087

• Ongoing operations: $350,320

• Project administration: $155,000

Revenues to date

• Membership: $51,719

• Advertising: $61,932

• Total: $113,951

Source: Chattanooga

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Chattanooga's bike share program faces an uncertain future if it can't earn enough to pay its bills.

Phillip Pugliese, the city's bicycle coordinator, said this week a $2 million federal grant that launched the program will run out by the end of September, and Bike Chattanooga will have to be self-sufficient by then.

To date, the city has spent almost $2 million to buy the bikes, set up the stations, get the program going and pay one full-time and three part-time employees, Pugliese said.

Total revenue so far is $51,719 in membership fees and $61,932 in sponsorships and advertising, for a total of $113,951, records show.

But Pugliese promised the program would not go under.

"I don't see that as a reasonable proposition," he said.

The program's coordinators are looking at ways to make the venture profitable, including expanded marketing, fee restructuring and other possible federal or state grants.

"There's a lot of potential avenues," he said.

The contract states that 75 percent of any profit will go to the city and 25 percent to Alta Bicycle Share, the Portland, Ore.-based company that runs the daily operations.

He said the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority oversees the grant. But he couldn't say whether he would ask CARTA or the city for money if the program is not profitable by October.

CARTA Assistant Director Lisa Maragnano said she could not comment without talking to the city and bike share program operators first.

"We have to have discussions on that," she said.

Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Mayor Andy Berke, said some technical problems at startup skewed the numbers. She could not say whether the mayor would budget money for the program.

"I don't want to speculate on what will happen at the end of October," she said. "We'll know more as we move forward."

Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said he would be open to reviewing the program and perhaps helping keep it going, if the operators can submit a business plan showing it can be profitable.

But he said the council has other, more pressing matters.

"At this point, I wouldn't say it's high on our list," he said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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