The details are still getting hammered out, but the Seattle Department of Transportation will take over Pronto Cycle Share a year after the nonprofit running it rolled out the system in October 2014.
SDOT is currently negotiating with the Puget Sound Bike Share to acquire the system at zero cost, according to a SDOT spokesperson. The takeover would allow for an major investment of public funding to expand the number of stations into low income areas and add electric bikes.
“Bike share is most successful at scale. You need a real network of origin-destination combinations,” said Nicole Freedman, director of SDOT’s active transportation program.
$5 million in Mayor Ed Murray’s recently released budget is slated to go towards expanding the Pronto network, doubling the number of stations to around 100. If a federal TIGER grant comes through, that money would be used as matching funds, allowing the number of stations to expand to 250. That could put 62% of Seattle residents within walking distance of a station, up from 14% today. The decision is expected to be announced this month.
Pronto, like many other bike share programs, largely serves dense, economically advantaged areas like downtown and Capitol Hill where businesses are willing to sponsor stations and bike service. According to the SDOT, the infusion of federal funds could help buck that trend.
Adding 100 stations would expand the system to the Central District, International District, Beacon Hill, Fremont, Green Lake, and Northgate. With 250 stations, service would extend to Ballard, Rainier Valley, and West Seattle.
The future of urban bike shares is electric, and SDOT officials say they want to be ahead of the curve. Freedman tells CHS that her research has shown that having an all-electric bike system can be a game changer in terms of boosting ridership and its something the City will be working towards with a possible pilot program.
“We’re hilly, so it levels the land,” Freedman said. And as stations expand into outer neighborhoods, retrofitting current bikes would allow more riders to make the longer trips required through less dense areas.
Any rollout of electric bikes will require adding new charging stations and a close collaboration with Motivate, the current operator for Pronto. In all likelihood, the City would continue to contract with Motivate to run the system, Freedman said.
Seattle currently has an unusual hybrid model compared to other bike share programs across the country. In most big cities, the local government owns the system and contract with a for-profit operator to run it. In smaller markets, bike shares are typically run by nonprofits with no direct city involvement.
The Seattle Bike Blog reported the city’s expansion plans represent a significant change in direction from King County’s original bike share plan. The original plan would have grown slowly over time from the current service area, adding station density and area with each phase.
Regardless of what the scope of the expansion is, nothing is likely to happen before 2017. While station installation would only take a couple of months, Freedman said order processing time could take 6-7 months.
Electric bikes, in the meantime, have improved to the point where there is enough of a market to inspire one bike retailer to try to meet the demand — Electric Lady is slated to open later this year at 23rd and Union. And, of course, biking remains a major component of Capitol Hill and Central Seattle commutes and transportation — with culture, to boot. Not one but three bike cafes are being planned to open around Pike/Pine and 12th Ave.
As far as the Pronto name staying after the public take over, Freedman said the City will keep its options open.
Freedman came to Seattle via Boston earlier this year after massively expanding that city’s network of bike lanes and overseeing the launch of its bike share system. She was hired by SDOT director Scott Kubly, who honed his bike share expertise in Chicago and Washington D.C.
UPDATE: The Broadway Bikeway — after months of construction on the under-street pedestrian tunnel to access Capitol Hill Station from the Seattle Central-side of the road — has reopened to its current full extent terminating at Denny. In the comments on this recent streetcar post, there was some conversation about low use of the cycle track. We’ve pulled the numbers from a counter that has been operating on the route for more than a year. In 2015, around 300 trips a day have been measured both northbound and southbound at Union. But usage has dropped considerably — measured trips are down more than 30% compared to the same period in 2014.
Finally! Bway bike lane on CapHill goes cleanly past lightrail construction. pic.twitter.com/o2G6CarVvO
— Casey Jaywork (@CaseyJaywork) October 7, 2015