An ongoing debate over the merits of a proposed taxpayer-subsidized bike rental program in Raleigh has gotten a little more heated.
A sponsor of Charlotte’s bike rental program this week refuted a Raleigh councilwoman’s claim that it considered canceling its sponsorship due to financial concerns.
The Raleigh City Council is considering a proposed “BikeShare” program that would place 300 bikes at 30 stations around Raleigh, mostly downtown and at local universities. Council members, who discussed the proposal during their Feb. 23 meeting, are split on the matter.
Supporters, like Bonner Gaylord, see it as a way to promote healthier lifestyles while making Raleigh more attractive to tourists. Skeptics, like Kay Crowder, say the costs are too high for a program that would benefit too few.
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Local companies, in private conversations with Gaylord, have pledged sponsorships that would cut the estimated $438,000 annual operating cost in half, he said. But Crowder said she worried that Raleigh’s BikeShare wouldn’t generate enough interest to keep sponsors interested longterm.
Here’s where things get interesting.
Crowder said Charlotte’s program generated less user-fee revenue than expected and that higher-than-expected sponsorship costs prompted sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina to pull out.
“I do know that Blue Cross Blue Shield has some real concerns about whether or not they would re-up their program in Charlotte,” she said at the council meeting.
This week, a spokesman for the insurance company emailed The News & Observer to refute her claim. BCBS recently renewed its sponsorship program through 2017, wrote Lew Borman, a company spokesman.
“We are very proud of being able to bring the Bike Share program to life in Charlotte and of the positive impact it has made,” he wrote. “We did not consider pulling out. ... It isn’t true.”
Informed of Borman’s email Friday, Crowder stood by her comment.
“I did speak to somebody over there and their feelings were that this wouldn’t be something that they would renew,” she said.
Crowder declined to name the company employee she spoke with, saying she didn’t want to get the person in trouble. She did, however, reframe her comment.
“This might have just been this person’s opinion,” Crowder said. “I certainly don’t want to state something about their program that’s not correct.”
Representatives for Charlotte Center City Partners, which runs the city’s “B cycle” program, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Crowder, for her part, said news of the insurance company’s support for Charlotte’s program didn’t change her views on Raleigh’s proposed program.
“Don’t get me wrong: I’m not opposed for BikeShare. I see it as part of our transit structure,” she said. “But there are a lot of other things that have to happen to make it successful – we need to improve our bus stops, sidewalks and crosswalks.”
“It’s about priorities,” she continued. “If we’re asking taxpayers to pay for it, I want something that’s going to be used by the largest number of people.”
The council is scheduled to discuss the program again during a work session, which is open to the public, on March 15.