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Seattle loses out on federal cash to expand bike share

Screen-Shot-2015-10-06-at-11.16.17-PMThe Seattle Department of Transportation has lost out on a federal TIGER grant that would have allowed the system operated by Pronto Cycle Share to expand into many more neighborhoods, including Ballard and West Seattle.

The Seattle Bike Blog reports the feds passed up the opportunity to back the Seattle proposal requesting $25 million in federal funds to help fill the $15 million funding gap in the Northgate bike/walk bridge project and to improve connectivity to transit by investing $10 million in a dramatically expanded bike share system.

The city would have matched this with $5 million of its own, while Pronto’s private operator Motivate would pitch in $3 million. With the TIGER grant, the system could have added 250 stations.

Only 14% of Seattle residents currently live within close walking distance of a bike share station. Under the expansion plan, 62% of residents would live within reach.

Earlier this month, SDOT officials told CHS that even if they lost out on the grant they would move forward with plans to take over the system with an eye on a more modest expansion in 2017.

$5 million in Mayor Ed Murray’s recently released budget is still slated to go towards expanding the network, doubling the number of stations to around 100. Adding 100 stations would expand the system to the Central District, International District, Beacon Hill, Fremont, and Green Lake.

SDOT announced plans to take over Pronto 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 for-profit operator Motivate would likely stay on to manage the system for the City.

Seattle 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 contracts with a for-profit operator to run it. In smaller markets, bike shares are typically run by nonprofits with no direct city involvement.

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, a city takeover could help buck that trend. It could also lead to a more rapid rollout of electric bikes, a change that advocates say would expand the utility of the system and make the bikes an option for a wider diversity of riders.

One thing to note: The system is resilient! After its station was nearly wiped out by Tuesday’s rogue garbage truck incident, Pronto officials reported that seven docks at the Bellevue/Pine location remained functional.

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5 years ago

Bike sharing is likely good as is bike riding for health and environment. How does it look for the city to be using public dollars to control and possibly rescue a private for profit company that has ties to Mayor Murray’s Director of the Department of Transportation? Is this still an issue? Even if Scott Kubly was not involved in Pronto or Alta Share, what type of public investment is appropriate and how will it work as public service? Is it going to become a public service? I think there are many unanswered questions about how to make it work for the City of Seattle .

5 years ago
Reply to  joanna

I think that those questions are unanswered because the funding side of things is so up in the air. You can’t roll out a massive expansion and electrify the fleet without major funding. And fwiw it would be the non-profit, not Motivate that is being ‘rescued’ in the zero cost takeover.

I think that the topography and pricing structure are really keeping Pronto from being a last mile solution for casual riders. You’re not going to drop $8 for one 15 minute ride – it should work more like a transit fare. The dream would be ORCA integration…