EL PASO, Texas - Local officials said Wednesday the state had denied funding for a bike share program, while a state Spokeswoman said that was not the case.
The Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority was slated to move forward with the bike share program but instead announced the lion's share of the funding, which the RMA was counting on, had been denied by the state.
The RMA's Executive Director, Raymond Telles said the program's budget consisted of $276,00 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, $24,000 from the University of Texas at El Paso and $100,000 the City of El Paso committed. The bulk of the cost, $1.6 million, would have been covered by federal funds that flow through the state, according to Telles.
"I think it's a stretch to say the program is dead. it has changed from a $2 million program to a $400,000 program, currently, but I think there's a lot of alternatives available," he said. Telles said the RMA plans to have a roundtable discussion with UTEP, the City, and even Fort Bliss, who has expressed interest in the program, about alternative methods of funding.
The federal money is part of the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program. The funds are supposed to be used for projects that decrease congestion and improve air quality. Scott White, a member of VeloPaso, El Paso's bike and pedestrian coalition, said he was especially baffled because the bike share program seemed like an ideal use of the moneys. "All of a sudden TxDot said we don't think that money should be used this way even though, theres a direct correlation between getting people on a bike and mitigating traffic and improving air quality," he said during an interview on Wednesday.
Telles said TxDot had informed him the agency did not consider the bike share program as the most beneficial way to use the funds. "As far as I've been told the decision is final but who knows," said Telles.
Even though El Paso officials unambiguously said TxDot had denied the funding, A TxDot Spokeswoman said no decision on the money had been made. "No final decision has been made yet. We continue to look at the most efficient ways to address air quality with limited funding. TxDOT plans to coordinate conversations with transportation partners to garner more information on how we can dedicate those limited funds to important congestion-mitigation projects around the state," wrote Veronica Beyer, a TxDot Spokeswoman, in a statement. She said the final decision will come from the State Transportation Commission. When asked why the RMA had said TxDot had clearly said the funds would not be used for the bike share program, Beyer stopped replying to an email thread.
White said state officials had said other funds might be better suited to fund the program. "What are these other funds? They didn't say. Are these other funds even accessible? If these funds aren't even accessible, why not use these (current) funds, because it is a perfect use for these current funds," he said.
The program will consist of 20 automated bike kiosks around the city, including the UTEP area and Downtown, that will house 10 bikes residents can rent for an hourly or daily fee and which can be returned to other kiosk locations.
The cities of Austin and Fort Worth are preparing for similar programs. The RMA said it plans to study how other bike shares have been funded.
"Everybody is looking at road projects and saying roads are about cars. Roads are about all the users out there: the pedestrians, the byciclists, skate boarders," said White.