Capitol Hill commuters took their final rides until who knows when on a Seattle public bike share Friday. The city’s Pronto system will shutter at midnight. Don’t forget to dock your bike.
The shutdown comes after two and a half years of service following the system’s October 2014 launch. Back then, around a third of Capitol Hill-identifying respondents told CHS they planned to use the share at least monthly. That might have marked peak enthusiasm for the troubled, limited, and ultimately uncharacteristically underused system.
While public shares have thrived in other cities, it was a relative bust in Seattle as membership plummeted from a high of around 3,000 and an initial early plan for a countywide approach was scrapped. Meanwhile, for-profit car systems like Car2Go and Reachnow have thrived. Along the way, Pronto even provided the city with a classically Seattle political scandal. The feds knew better, rejecting a $10 million grant request to expand the system.
By January 2017, Mayor Ed Murray decided to put the city’s bike system out of its misery, kissing goodbye the $4.4 million budget required to start the system in 2014 and the $1.4 million approved in March 2016 to keep the system afloat. The plans for a transition to electric bikes and expansion in the Central District were axed. $3 million budgeted for the share was, instead, funneled into pedestrian and street safety improvements near schools, and “accelerating design and outreach for the east/west connections in the Center City bicycle network.”
The bikes and the docks will be removed from Seattle’s streets after Friday. In one indignity to advocates hoping to reduce car dependence in the city, the street parking that was removed will be restored. The equipment will be sold providing yet another opportunity for indignity as Seattle watches another municipality or school campus successfully deploy the discounted surplus. Maybe we should have just melted it all down to scrap to save on the psychic costs.
Friday morning, CHS found one rider headed west on Republican who said he was a regular Pronto commuter out for one last day on the service. The dock at the popular Pronto station near Capitol Hill Station was empty. The dock at most of the other stations were as full as usual.
CHS, like our business and residential neighbors, never found many uses for the system. The time to check out a bike — and grab a helmet from the code-locked bin if we were feeling law abiding — was sometimes too great to make the stop worth it. Finding a destination station was usually a bigger waste of time. Still, we grabbed a Pronto on a few breaking stories and could see the promise even if we wanted another gear or two to work with and brakes that were a little less casual.
Want to see the future? As usual, look to China where for-profit, floating bike share companies have made their offerings ubiquitous to the point of sometimes ridiculous saturation. It seems unlikely Seattle, then, will live for long without a bike share — or several — operating on its streets. But this particular failed experiment has come to an end.
— Kristin (@kf2f2f) October 27, 2015