As we reported last week, Puget Sound Bike Share has officially formed and is currently searching for an executive director. If all goes smoothly, the first bikes could roll out as early as late summer or fall of 2013.
Guiding the process process forward is a business plan developed by Alta, which suggested having an administrative non-profit (Puget Sound Bike Share) and a private operating contractor (TBD, though Alta would probably like the job).
“Non-profit is a good model for us because it’s a lot easier to apply for public sector grants and [private] sponsorships,” said PSBS Board President Ref Lindmark (also with King County). While elsewhere in the nation, municipalities have owned and operated the systems, a non-profit makes sense for the system’s goal to be a regional system, he said.
The PSBS Board includes representatives from Seattle, King County, Washington State, Kirkland, Redmond, UW, Seattle Children’s, Sound Transit, Cascade Bicycle Club, Microsoft, the PSRC and will be looking for more.
If all goes according to plan, the initial launch of the system (Phase 1A) will include 50 stations and 500 bikes in downtown, Belltown, Capitol Hill, First Hill, the International District, Pioneer Square, South Lake Union, Eastlake and the University District.
Phase 1B will follow, adding 60 more stations and 600 more bikes. At this point, stations will be an average of 980 feet apart, which is about every three blocks, a short walk from any destination within the system area.
The start-up cost for the first phase is $3.1 million, with another $1.4 million in operating costs annually. This includes the additional costs buying more expensive bikes with seven gears (typical 3-gear bikes might make it hard on Seattle’s hills) and the cost of providing helmet vending machines at each station.
Helmets! I wrote previously arguing for an exception to the King County helmet law for bike share users. The reasoning is that other cities have found their bike share users to be remarkably safe. In fact, it may be the safest urban transportation mode possible and has a far lower injury rate compared to people riding their own bikes.
PSBS is not looking for any changes in the helmet law, which would certainly be politically difficult and controversial. However, they are also not ignoring the negative effects a helmet law could have on the network. They have accounted for a lower usage rate and the cost of a helmet distribution system in their business plan, and these expectations and added costs will be reflected in the RFP searching for an operator.
“We know that helmet laws will suppress demand and will raise the costs,” said Lindmark, who also pointed out that even many cities without helmet laws are spending the extra money to have helmets available with their systems.
Another challenge is the lack of quality bike facilities downtown. This is yet another big reason the city needs to move forward with a downtown cycle track plan (or several) now, so that the facility can be in place next year before bike share launches.
Station placement is a challenge for any system, since urban space is precious. There are enough systems in the world that Seattle will have many placement options to follow, including stations on sidewalks, in the parking lane and in public plazas.
The system may need legislative help from the city regarding advertisements. While it would look nothing like a billboard or the gaudy ad-covered bikes common in Europe, sponsorship of stations in some fashion is a good revenue option to keep the system going.
PSBS would cost about the same as systems elsewhere, with $5 for a day or $75 for a year (a fantastic deal).
What’s the point?
What’s the point of bike share? Honestly, I get this question from as many current cyclists as I do from people who don’t bike. Bike share may not really appeal all that much to people who already bike their own rides everywhere they go. But that’s not the point of the system.
Bike share is about providing a dependable, fast and affordable way to make short-to-medium-length trips, which are the majority of trips people make. Only 40 percent of people in Seattle have access to a working bike, according to a recent phone survey conducted as part of the Bike Master Plan Update.
Transit rates in Seattle are high, and the transit network is very dependent on the downtown transit hub. However, solving the “last mile” problem (from a transit stop to a destination) is very expensive and difficult using buses and trains, and not all these distances are an easy walk.
Bike share solves this problem, and revolutionizes the way people interact with their city in the process.
Here’s a StreetFilms video of how Capital Bikeshare works in DC:
The Alta business plan:
Kcbs Business Plan Final