PBOT says cancellation of $299,000 app contract won’t impact Transportation Wallet program

The Transportation Wallet program has reduced driving and parking in the bustling Central Eastside District. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“It’s not a ‘screw-up’. It’s cutting our losses.”

– Hannah Schafer, PBOT

The Willamette Week reported today that the Portland Bureau of Transportation has cancelled a contract with an app developer and the $299,000 they spent will not be recouped. The app, which was supposed to launch this year, was related to PBOT’s Transportation Wallet program, a successful initiative that provides thousands of Portlanders big discounts on services likes bike share rental and transit passes.

As we reported a year ago, the Wallet program has become so popular that it has been expanded and taken from a pilot (that launched in 2017) to a permanent program. PBOT manages three types of Wallets, one for low-income residents (“Access for All”), one for Portlanders who just moved to town (“New Movers”), and one for people who live or work in places where parking is regulated by permits. In these “Parking Districts,” individuals can swap a parking permit for a Transportation Wallet that gives them a collection of passes and credits on transit (TriMet), streetcar (Portland Streetcar), bike-share (Biketown), e-scooters (various companies), and car-share that are worth hundreds of dollars.

The contract in the Willamette Week story relates only to the parking district Wallet program.

Contents of the 2023 Wallet.

Reached for comment about the story and future of the program this morning, PBOT Communications Director Hannah Schafer said the mobile app work was an effort to improve the program both for users and staff. “The web-based and mobile app was envisioned as a tool to streamline and automate the delivery of various Transportation Wallet components,” Schafer shared with BikePortland. “Components that staff are doing manually today and will continue to do in the future.”

Schafer said she realizes this story doesn’t look good for PBOT, especially after the situations on SW Broadway and NE 33rd in recent months, but she took issue with my characterization of it on social media this morning. In a post on X (formerly Twitter), I referred to this as yet another “screw-up” by the agency.

“It’s not a ‘screw-up’,” Schafer contended. “It’s cutting our losses from a vendor [Canada-based RideShark] that wasn’t providing the service we wanted… It just wasn’t working with the app and the vendor.”

In a letter sent Monday to committee members who oversee the parking districts, PBOT Active Transportation & Safety Division Manager Renata Tirta wrote, “We could not in good faith deliver our services reliably, timely, or consistently using the software solution this vendor was developing,” and, “By terminating the contract before the App would have been available for public use, we saved the Bureau and the parking districts money and ensured there are no disruptions to our delivery of the Transportation Wallet in the Parking Districts.”

Schafer said the decision actually saved PBOT money because total contract with RideShark was $350,000 (and was terminated at $299,000). Funding for the contract came from the parking districts ($100,000 each) and PBOT paid for the remaining amount with other sources.

PBOT has distributed 8,400 Transportation Wallets to parking district residents and employees since 2017 and they’ve led to a significant decrease in driving and parking. According to PBOT analysis, people with Wallets drive to work less than half as of much as those without (14% and 32%, respectively). And in the Northwest Parking District, people with Wallets walk twice as much as non-Wallet holders for commute trips (24% and 12%, respectively) and take Portland Streetcar 2.5 times as much (12% and 5%, respectively).

While the termination of the app development contract is another blow to PBOT’s already-ailing budget and reputation, Schafer said it will have no impact on their ability to continue the Wallet program — especially the Access for All Wallet which is set to receive $25 million thanks to the Portland Clean Energy Fund.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Watts
Watts
2 months ago

Schafer said the decision actually saved PBOT money because total contract with RideShark was $350,000 (and was terminated at $299,000). Funding for the contract came from the parking districts ($100,000 each) and PBOT paid for the remaining amount with other sources.

Heroic spin. Just because you squandered someone else’s money doesn’t mean it wasn’t wasted. And PBOT themselves aren’t spending $99K on something more useful because of all their own money this project “saved”.

“It’s not a ‘screw-up’,” Schafer contended.

Spending $299K and getting nothing in return most certainly is a screw up.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

They will spin it as a “learning opportunity”.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
2 months ago

PBOT leadership’s stewardship of the people’s money:
comment image
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$300,000 could have install 5-7 sewer barrel diverters.

Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

I wonder if the state of existing mobility apps have progressed fare enough along to fold in this “mobility e-wallet” so that the developer fee would not be so great AND not having to reinvent the app wheel (and pay reoccurring single client maintenance fees)? Has PDoT reached out to Citymapper App or Transit App folks, etc?

From the progress to date its great to see the facts mentioned after this statement: “PBOT has distributed 8,400 Transportation Wallets to parking district residents and employees since 2017 and they’ve led to a significant decrease in driving and parking.”

Will
Will
2 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

I don’t understand why they didn’t contract with the company that does the HOP App.

cc_rider
cc_rider
2 months ago

I love that Hannah is worried about how PBOTs failure is characterized. You know that it’s when you’ve hit terminal velocity dumpster fire when you are focused on controlling how people describe leaderships inability to do even basic functions of their job because it happens so often.

So what, what’s a little $25k or $300k wasted here and there, that’s just PBOT leadership being smart.Shame on Jonathan to dare describe spending $300k in public funds and receiving nothing in return as a “screw-up”

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I think you may be misattributing PBOT’s spin as Jonathan’s voice, as I read above, it seems like fairly straightforward reporting of what PBOT has said with very little editorializing. He also stated that he did call this a screw up on social media.

I digress and to refocus on the more important matter:

What I think needs to be highlighted more blatantly is that PBOT cancelled a contract that in Schafer’s words “It’s cutting our losses from a vendor [Canada-based RideShark] that wasn’t providing the service we wanted… It just wasn’t working with the app and the vendor.”

We know that PBOT had a contract, and that Rideshark wasn’t delivering what PBOT wanted and they chose to cancel rather than go after Rideshark for failure to deliver the contracted terms.

However PBOT didn’t say that Rideshark failed to meet the contracted terms, so did the terms of the contract fail to express what PBOT wanted or did PBOT move the goal posts and/or poorly express their expectations of the service? If the contract was poorly made, then that’s the mechanism for failure and PBOT needs to own up to and address that mismanagement.
If Rideshark did not meet the contracted terms than PBOT *should* be transparent with why they have chosen not pursue financial compensation for Ridesharks failure to deliver, which could in turn bring us back to option one.

cc_rider
cc_rider
2 months ago

IDK, unless Jonathan just made up the quote, Hannah definitely said this wasn’t a screw up.

I used to work in the business systems / IT procurement realm for a state agency. I’d bet really good money that the person who prepared the RFP doesn’t have any expertise in tech. They are probably just the manager of wherever the money was budgeted to. I saw it all the time at the state. So you have people who have no idea what needs to happen to create IT systems writing the requirements and then the contract doesn’t reflect what actually needs to be built. Public sector managers are generally low-quality (sorry, its true) and can’t get performance out of their own staff much more manage a contractor.

They probably wrote a flimsy contract that wasn’t output based, let someone who wasn’t qualified manage the project, and then realized they had absolutely nothing after spending $300k. I guess kudos for not wasting the last $50k.

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I think I injected/misread a tone to “Shame on Jonathan…” that wasn’t intended then, definitely seeing more sarcasm than I did yesterday.

I agree, I’d say your assessment falls under PBOT being the point of failure, see bjorn’s comment below as well. Even if they did have people with tech experience perhaps they were not listened to or did not carry enough weight in planning and execution processes to achieve success with the project. (I’m reminded of this nearly decade old sketch)

Very frustrating that Hannah’s statements are pointing in a “forget about it and move on” direction and not a direction to understand more deeply in order to prevent similar issues in the future.

mc
mc
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I think you pretty well nailed it. However, if PBOT did put a non-tech proj. mngr. in charge of a software app proj. and they wrote a crappy RFP that resulted in a failed project, that’d be considered a “screw-up” pretty much anywhere else.

Brandon
Brandon
2 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

The same thing happens in the private sector all the time. I work for a fortune 50 company and this type of thing is commonplace. Whether it’s bad project management, an over eager manager, or a change in leadership; millions of dollars in sunk costs end up lost to the vendor. It’s the cost of doing business for most companies, I’m not surprised at all to see that it happens in the public sector. We hold the public sector to such a high standard sometimes that we forget that it’s also just an organization of people, and people make mistakes. They should learn from them and improve, which is why it’s important to highlight these things, but we set ourselves up for disappointment if we expect perfect performance from our public organizations. The same things are happening in the private sector, they just don’t have an obligation to tell us about it.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Brandon

They should learn from them and improve

I agree with your overall sentiment here. None of us is free from making mistakes, and tech is hard (though not as much in this case as noted by Aaron below).

That said, PBOT declared they didn’t make any mistakes (and they saved us money!), so it doesn’t sound like they’re on the path to personal and organizational growth.

Hopefully, their internal reckoning is more reality-based.

cc_rider
cc_rider
2 months ago
Reply to  Brandon

The same things are happening in the private sector, they just don’t have an obligation to tell us about it.

Sorry no, the circus that is the public sector in Oregon is a dumpster fire. The stories I have are wild. Like, I ‘know’ what happened here because I’ve seen this same thing dozens of times. Burning six figures consultant contracts and getting nothing out of them is the norm, not the exception.

I’m a big fan of government, I’ve made it my career, and in my mind its important to speak plainly about how completely dysfunctional governmental organizations in Oregon are. MultCo is broken, CoP is broken, and most state agencies are broken. The only way we are going to fix it is if we are honest about how bad things are instead of pretending we are comparable with private sector inefficiencies.

The reality is that PBOT wont consider this a mistake. The people responsible from making the mistake will not be held accountable, there wont be lessons learned from this.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 months ago
Reply to  Brandon

 I’m not surprised at all to see that it happens in the public sector either…because we are hiring based upon other criteria than actual aptitude.

J_R
J_R
2 months ago

If it were a screw up, someone would need to be fired or demoted. Since that won’t happen, it can’t be defined as a screw up. Just another opportunity to go to a conference and celebrate a success.

idlebytes
idlebytes
2 months ago

So they lost about half the amount of money they spend in a year fixing damage drivers do to infrastructure and they’re like whoops-a-daisy?

Re-quoting PBOT from that article:

According to PBOT, the $299,000 of wasted money from this one contract is the budgetary equivalent of installing speed bumps on 41 miles of street, upgrading 249 crosswalks with high-visibility markings, or filling 3,858 potholes.

No money for maintenance next year though. Glad I got the big potholes on my street filled last month. Next winter is going to be wild.

Nat West
Nat West
2 months ago

Regarding the stats of program users (8400 of them) and their greater likelihood to walk, bike, ride, etc, the article makes no mention of causation or correlation. Can we have any clarification? Or are we left to believe that only formerly car-centric people are users of the program?

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Nat West

Are we left to believe that only formerly car-centric people are users of the program?

I’m inclined to believe them. They did just save us $51K after all.

Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

Looking up RideShark in iTunes App store and they currently have 3 ride sharing apps with very few reviews (+ or -) …if you are in the app business for 4+ years and your apps only have ~5 reviews then something must be going on ‘wrong’. Perhaps some PSU students can look back at the public bid process and see which other companies bid and what RideShark offered that “won” the bid with.

To be fair, far fewer government agencies are good about anything software based so this puts staff often out of their league (experience-wise) with less internal guidance than ideal to oversee a dynamic product like an App. Plus with the typical minimum bid rules you may get less than planned and with much longer delivery timelines. But this is just my guess at what may have happened to PBoT.

Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

And for those opining that ‘X’ number of traffic calming devices / bikeway barriers could have been installed with this $300k ‘wasted’…in government its now-a-days more complex than 25 + years ago when ‘all’ the public revenue flowed into and then out of one big pot – aka ‘the general fund’. Based on the WW reporting $200k came from 2 parking districts so these funds would have to be expended in those areas and related to parking management…but that still leaves $99k from the general fund.

The city allocated $100,000 each from the Northwest and Central Eastside parking districts to fund the contract (revenue that comes primarily from the sale of parking passes in those districts) and funded the remainder of the contract with bureau dollars.” – WW

bjorn
bjorn
2 months ago

As someone with some experience in software development and contracting spending 6/7 of your budget before realizing that you’d rather burn the whole thing to the ground than keep going indicates a poor job of setting requirements and milestones at the start of the project. This is absolutely a screw-up by PBOT.

Yoko Chen
Yoko Chen
2 months ago

Schafer said it will have no impact on their ability to continue the Wallet program — especially the Access for All Wallet which is set to receive $25 million thanks to the Portland Clean Energy Fund.

Oh and don’t worry because the unaccountable PCEF slush fund where millions goes “willy nilly and everywhere” will continue to flow……

Aaron
2 months ago

I worked in mobile app development for the better part of a decade before shifting careers and spent much of that working with startups and local government agencies looking to have apps like this made on a shoestring budget. I think $300k is maybe a little high but pretty much the going rate for a project like this in 2022.

I looked up the RideShark website and it looks like they have a pre-made white label app that they rebrand for individual cities, a very common practice for devs that work with local governments. As far as I can tell, it’s specifically made for administering the type of program that PBOT was trying to do so it should have actually been a perfectly easy turnkey solution for them.

Either RideShark is completely incompetent at delivering their product or PBOT was completely incompetent at engaging with RideShark, because this app should have been an easy win.

The actual RideShark app looks really crappy and bloated with unnecessary features that probably work poorly. We’re not missing out on a whole lot by not getting it but I can see why PBOT wanted an off-the-shelf solution to manage this program instead of doing it manually. If you’re curious what the app would have looked like just check out RideShark’s demo reel: https://youtu.be/XNuvmo9ayfQ?si=n2rnfHk5181Nk_Tm

My guess is that every new city they signed on wanted another niche feature added and wanted to pay bottom dollar for it, and now it’s a bloated and buggy monster that does a million unrelated things very poorly and burns the eyes of any UX designer who sees it. I think it’s equally likely that this failure was on RideShark.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
2 months ago

Some getting fired over this at PBOT, right? …Right?

Chopwatch
Chopwatch
2 months ago

They’re REALLY gate keeping APPP Zone G and N permits and those lucky enough to be approved, the fees are outrageous.

Yet, glancing down from the Hawthorne bridge, I see many illegally parked vagrancy vehicles not being cited. PDX PBOT just needs to cite them daily, so they can go into tow warrant and towed in pursuant to applicable city codes.

There are plenty of legal parking spaces in hoity-toity Eastmoreland that are not regulated.