An ongoing debate over the merits of a proposed taxpayer-subsidized bike rental program in Raleigh has gotten more heated.
A sponsor of Charlotte’s bike rental program this week refuted Raleigh councilwoman Kay Crowder’s claim that it considered canceling its sponsorship because of financial concerns.
The Raleigh City Council is considering a proposed “BikeShare” program that would place 300 bikes at 30 stations around town, mostly downtown and at universities. Council members, who discussed the proposal on Feb. 23, 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 Crowder, say the costs are too high for a program that would benefit too few.
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.
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 through 2017, wrote Lew Borman.
“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,” Borman wrote. “We did not consider pulling out.”
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 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,” she said. “I certainly don’t want to state something about their program that’s not correct.”
Crowder 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.”
The council is scheduled to discuss the program again on March 15.
Open or closed?
The Chapel Hill Town Council paused briefly this week before adopting closed meeting minutes from last year’s decision to forgo buying the 36-acre American Legion property on Legion Road.
Angry residents have questioned the decision – made in closed session without public input and just days after the Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and two council members lost the election. The town did not have $10 million to buy the land, officials have said.
Residents have asked the new council to reconsider that decision, saying they would rather see the land become a park or commercial site. A developer has proposed to buy the land for luxury apartments.
It’s not a question of whether the decision in closed session was legal, council member Nancy Oates said, but the response shows the council needs to rebuild trust with the public. Oates said she’d like the council to talk about what should be done in closed session and what should be done in public.
“I’m a big fan of being as transparent as possible, as legally possible,” she said. “I do understand there’s some things that we have to go into closed session for, but for the most part, we need to talk about everything in public.”
Compiled by Paul A. Specht and Tammy Grubb
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