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SDOT taking over Pronto bike share with plans to expand, go all-electric

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 11.16.17 PMSeattle’s bike share program is poised for some big changes.

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.

By the start of this summer, Pronto had grown to nearly 3,000 members and served almost 13,000 riders

By the start of this summer, Pronto had grown to nearly 3,000 members and served almost 13,000 riders

UPDATE: Here’s an updated look at weekly totals for the system:Pronto Data - Norm v2

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.

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45 thoughts on “SDOT taking over Pronto bike share with plans to expand, go all-electric” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I would be more enthusiastic about using these if I didn’t have to ride around on a billboard for a private business in order to do so. If some airline wants to be a good neighbor and subsidize this service, we should thank them publicly and maybe give them a plaque.

      • Is Pronto a bicycle sharing service or an advertising service? Is the goal to provide transportatio or to manipulate public opinion by shoving some company’s name and logo in people’s faces?

      • Right now, it’s neither.

        It’s an opportunity to check off a surface-level feature of a bike-friendly city without having done the meaty work that makes it actually succeed in real life.

        Until the 62% of people mentioned in the article actually have safe bike infrastructure to ride them on, these bikes will just continue to mostly sit and rust.

      • Well…Phil…money is required to do these things. Our busses have advertising…everything has advertising. If you don’t want to fly Alaska than by all means don’t. Noone is “shoving” anything down your throat. Youre a big boy, its ok, the CEO of Alaska isn’t holding a gun to your head and forcing you to fly to Oxnard. Like I said. The bike share is not profitable on its requires money.

      • I think your being a baby,
        the advertising is hella minimal bro.

        Urban Influence did a good job or branding the bike, it could be far worse.

    • Notice no one else noticing the money coming from the feds (American tax payers). What a shame… people across the US paying for a few people in Seattle, to PAY to ride ‘electric bikes’… they (American tax payers) will most likely NEVER use, and will never be paid back. This country is going down the tubes, the feds are out of control (and their minds) and all ppl on here can comment about is the advertising on the bikes?! OH, and more bike lanes… Sad…

  2. Any chance this will be rolled into Orca card with other transit options? I’d love for my pre-tax payroll deduction to include bike share.

    • Great idea. Though not sure how that would work as the annual cost of pronto membership is way cheaper than single use. Maybe there could be a monthly option, if not already, or some epurse equivalent or multiple options. Still should be able to do the bike share without an orca card too.

    • This IS a great idea. Same with paying for parking at P&Rs when ST and/or Metro start charging for reserved spaces.

      Unfortunately, it seems like these fare cards aren’t built as flexible systems. I haven’t done the research, but I can’t think of a system where your transit pass works on a handfull of unrelated systems too.

  3. The horrible SDOT admits the bike program is a failure so as govt. always does, throw more money at it. Less parking, more bikes sitting in the rain. Can’t wait to see how little the bikes are used in “low income” neighborhoods.

    • You do realize that there are plenty of cities in the USA where the bikeshare programs are a big success, right?

    • What’s the deal with quotes around low income? There are actual low income neighborhoods here. They’re not a quotes thing. And every neighborhood should have access to this program. It’s also about people who live in a low income neighborhood using bike share to go places, like work or wherever. Also could be helpful in terms of access to food outside of food deserts.

      Parking was a problem in Seattle before this program existed. This may allow more people to forego driving thereby saving parking spaces for others to use.

    • I agree with you about SDOT…it is by far the most dysfunctional City department. The Pronto program will suffer once the city has taken over. It should remain privatized.

  4. What is up with the negativity in comments? I see the bikes in use constantly. Every day, every commute I walk by a Pronto in use and see evidence that the stations are in use.

    We’re talking about Capitol Hill here, right? Are there CH bike stations that are always filled with bikes and no one uses?

    If they’re electric assist, then the next time my bike breaks I probably won’t bother to fix it, and use the money on a Pronto membership instead. I’m just commuting from one Pronto station to another.

    Advertising is part of life. If you look right, you can see ads that paid for this content to be written on CHS.

    • I’d second your comment. I’m a cyclist, and at first I was pretty skeptical about Pronto. Why would you rent a bike if you already have one? Yet I’m astonished to see how many Prontos I see rolling around, including in congested downtown areas. so I’ve changed my mind. Granted, this is anecdotal, but believe me you, a lot of people are using ’em.

      Second point: The electric bikes are brilliant. I used one in Spain in a very steep, hilly area, and it was awesome. Electric bikes are made for Seattle’s hills and I know tourists love them. It’s a great way for bolder tourists to see the city if they can hack the car traffic. Not for everyone, I’ll concede, but for those who are ready to plunge in and see the city for real instead of Ride the Ducks or other such foolishness.

      Third Point: Advertising. Oh, for the love of Mary, get over yourself. If Alaska Airlines wants the foot the bill for this vital urban infrastructure, let ’em!! Or would you prefer millions of dollars be stripped from our buses because you find ads so offensive? Let me know when you’ve successfully cultivated disease-resistant money trees, and I’ll be all for stripping away the ads.

      • Oh, they are not just for tourists… no, no NO! I have an electric bike and I love it. (And I have a quite nice non electric bike too for exercise). But to commute to and from work on one of these is a dream. I wear what I’m going to wear for the day – I don’t have to change my clothes, shower from a sweaty commute or worry that i left the right shoes at home when I get dressed again for the day… I am not sure how the city is going to make enough electric bikes for the system but if they do, it could be a game changer. They really are a wonderful alternative and a super practical way to commute. I wish more people would try them out.

        For me, getting an electric bike was the only way I was going to consistently bike to work. It worked and then some…now I’m often wondering how I can get my whole family on one… This Pronto thing might be the ticket.

    • I haven’t ridden a Pronto yet as I have my own bike and I think the lights on the pronto bikes are insufficient. Yes, I can put extra rear lights on my helmet and backpack but not happy with front illumination options on the pronto. I suppose if I ended up using it regularly, I would find some option to temp affix something. They also seem heavy and bulky. But again, I haven’t tried one.

      If they are in more neighborhoods, I might try it. Or if going somewhere where I’d come home late and not want to bike back. Still need a lot of work on more rideable streets. though.

  5. As I wrote before: If a business wants to underwrite this program you described as “vital urban infrastructure” we should publicly thank them and maybe give them a plaque. Allowing them to plaster their name all over that infrastructure is something quite different.

    Where should we draw the line? Should we plaster the interior walls of our City Hall with advertising? Paint our sidewalks with ads? If some business wanted to chip in on funding for public parks and put advertising in the trees, should we let ’em do so?

  6. The things keeping me from using Pronto are hills and traffic. I imagine that a lot of tourists would be intimidated by those things as well unless they have experience with electric bikes.

  7. We should add more bike infrastructure because if there’s one underserved group out there, it’s urban white males.

    • Most bicycle demographic surveys put ridership at about 70% male.

      “In the U.S., 24% of all bicycle trips are made by women and 76% are made by men.” -U.S. Department of Transportation, 2010 – 2009 National Household Travel Survey

      The majority of bike infrastructure improvements are taking place in majority white areas of the city.

      Using those two data points, it would appear that white males are the majority beneficiaries of these policies.

      Of course the money could be spent on Metro and really benefit a much larger pool of citizens, but what would all of the poor bike bros do?

  8. As a tourist in DC, biking was fun and a perfect way to get around the mall and along the C&O canal and the Potomac River. There are wide sidewalks and bike/ped trails so you aren’t dealing with heavy road traffic. Locals do commute from Arlington and Alexandria using these trails. It’s a beaut of a ride with postcard views.

    The city is FLAT though! I spoke with one dude and he rides his own bike when it’s fair weather and this is DC! – you don’t have to wear all black, but the Feds still require more formal office wear. DC has pretty decent bus and subway (when it’s working).

    IMO, since Seattle is rolling in so much dough, the city should invest in scooters instead of electric bikes. I already have my own bike and have not been successful in getting visitors to ride a bike on these hills and traffic. The only success is when I schlepped bikes around with a car, get on a trail, and then we go.

  9. I should add the reason why I like scooters is whether you are young or old, it’s cool and hip to whip around the city on these things. If you are young or just want to defy your age, you want to project rip and awesome bod, even when your body is saying no, Electric bike, unlike electric car, projects stodginess. That’s shallow I know, but honest.