Pronto Cycle Share launches: What you need to know + Updates

Image from Pronto

Image from Pronto

Today is the big day. Pronto Cycle Share is scheduled to unlock its docks at 1 p.m., thus introducing an entirely new public transportation system to the streets of Seattle.

Seattle will be the first major Pacific Northwest city to launch a modern public bike share system, which allows people 16 and up to check out a bike for short, one-way bike trips around the city center and the University District.

While Portland and Vancouver, B.C., balked at launching their systems, Mayor Ed Murray put his full support behind the system to get it launched in 2014. It was an ambitious goal that required pulling together a whole lot of pieces, including bringing on Alaska Airlines as the major system sponsor and forging a new supply chain for the bikes and kiosks themselves after Alta Bicycle Share’s old supplier Bixi went bankrupt.

Crews have been working hard in recent weeks to install the 50 stations and build up the 500 hill-climbing and rain-ready bikes that make up the system. Meanwhile, annual membership numbers have continued to grow, and Pronto expects about 1,000 members by launch time.

The system will kick off with a media event in Occidental Park at 11 a.m. Then members who signed up will get the chance to be the first to ride the bikes, moving them from distribution sites to docks around the city at noon.

Many bikes have already been distributed to station docks around town, but the stations will remain locked until 1 p.m. Annual members receive key fobs in the mail that they use to check out a bike, giving them unlimited 30-minute rides. After 30 minutes, you’ll be charged $2. After an hour, you’ll be charged $7. You can always dock, then wait three minutes and undock the bike to get another free 30-minutes if you need more time.

You do not need to be a member to use the system. Anyone with a credit card can also simply swipe their card at any station to buy an $8 day pass or $16 3-day pass. At least for the first couple months, clean helmets will be available at each station to check out for free.

Early registers need to accept new terms

First off, if you signed up early to be a member (either August 25 or 26), you must log-in online and accept the updated terms and services before you can use it. Your key will not work until you do this. If you log in and there are no notifications telling you about the terms, then you should be good to go.

Download the Spotcycle app

The Spotcycle app shows that all docks are locked as of 9am

The Spotcycle app shows that all docks are locked as of 9am

Pronto is now part of the Spotcycle app available for Android and iOS.

The app shows station locations and, once the system launches, how many bikes are available at each station.

You can also bookmark the station map, which will show the same information in any browser.

If you use the Transit App, which shows real-time transit arrival data and helps with route planning, you have probably noticed that that app also now displays Pronto station data. This is a brilliant move to help people combine transit and bike share to get around town.

We will update this post throughout the day. However, I am not actually in Seattle today (I’m in St. Louis visiting family and friends), so I could use your help covering the launch and hearing your initial thoughts using it. So let us and everyone else know how your first ride went in the comments below. If you have any good photos, email them to tom@seattlebikeblog.com. And, of course, check back throughout the day for updates.

UPDATE 11am: City leaders and folks central to the launch of Pronto rode the bikes down to a media event in Pioneer Square.

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Photo courtesy of Marley:

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52 Responses to Pronto Cycle Share launches: What you need to know + Updates

  1. Pingback: Time for first Capitol Hill rides for new Seattle bike share | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  2. Alan says:

    How long until your helmet law makes it fail?

  3. Chad says:

    I really do hope this is successful, but I too am concerned that the helmet law in conjunction with a lack of downtown cycling infrastructure will make it very difficult for this to succeed.

    • Cheif says:

      That depends on the police. It would be nice if Ms. O’toole would release a statement to the effect that helmet violations are the lowest priority of spd, in a similar manner to how they treated cannabis law violations before that particular restriction was repealed. Secondary offense ticketing is totally fine, but cops going after bikeshare users is not an effective use of limited police resources.

    • jon says:

      I most concerned that the temporary helmet situation fails by having unlocked cabinets that look like trash cans filled with $20-30 helmets. People just wont use them anyway if they do remain and they’ll spend so much money restocking them because of being ruined by trash and other nasty things.

      • SGG says:

        Does anyone have any actual data on the number of biking without a helmet citations that have been given? I’ll bet not many, and that most of the ones that have been given are tagged on to some otherwise unrelated offense like running a red light or whatever.

      • Josh says:

        I’ve seen data in the past that suggests helmet violations are mostly pretextual stops for the offense of cycling while looking undesirable.

        A helmet violation is a defensible reason to stop someone who looks like they might be dealing drugs, or who is the wrong color or class for the neighborhood.

  4. Kristina says:

    It was fun to ride the bikes from Occidental Park to a docking station. The bike was very comfortable to ride and I look forward to riding one again. One of the tv station journalists asked the Mayor if they are considering repealing the mandatory helmet law in the future. The Mayor said they were not considering and that the original recommendation came from Harborview based on head injuries. They would only change their mind if there was a scientific reason too. So put together your research if you want to push this issue.

    • Kimberly Kinchen says:

      Congratulations, Seattle! I know there are still a lot of naysayers out there, but if your experience is anything like NYC’s, they’ll quickly find they have nothing left to naysay, and quite a few of them will become converts.

      Re helmets: the research is inconclusive for all the various arguments. What’s fairly conclusive: more than 3 million Citi Bike rides with no fatalities or serious injuries, which strongly suggests a safety in numbers effect. NYC does not have a mandatory helmet law.

      On my last visit to Seattle, in August, I (unscientifically but conscientiously) noted that about 1/3 of folks weren’t wearing helmets, which makes me think that a) wearing/not wearing a helmet is not a big deal in Seattle’s biking culture generally and b) helmets must not be that big an enforcement priority to begin with if that many people go without.

      I don’t think the helmet law will result in a Pronto fail, but it will make success (and likely program expansion) more difficult than it needs to be.

    • Josh says:

      The Mayor’s actual quote was that he’d support repeal if there was evidence cycling was safer without helmets. That’s a vastly different question from whether mandatory helmet laws are good for public health.

      Helmets do have health benefits.

      But cycling has greater health benefits.

      The scientific evidence is quite overwhelming that mandatory helmet laws have a net negative impact on public health, even if helmets are every bit as effective as Harborview’s most overstated claims. One of the best explorations of the relative benefits and costs of helmet laws is from Piet de Jong, at Macquarie University – Department of Applied Finance and Actuarial Studies.

      See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1368064

      The Mayor’s answer is designed to sound reasonable while disregarding the best available science.

  5. Ints says:

    Just had my first Pronto cyclist sighting. Two people riding under the viaduct with the breeze moving through their hair.
    Prawn toe- still sounds like a foot infection though. Maybe thats what you get after riding through the rainy season here?

  6. Marley says:

    I also took part in the “ride-out” launch event today. Lots of fun taking the bikes out for their first spin and I’m excited to get back on one. Definitely interested to see what the police will do with the helmet law. I always ride with one on, but that’s a personal preference, as an adult, I should have the choice of whether or not to wear it. Also, these bikes are heavy (especially compared to my road bike), but the gearing was great! I sped right up Marion street- people shouldn’t have any problem getting around the hills!

    I’msuper excited for my non-biking friends and family to take rides on these with me! Now to expand to the Central District, Fremont and Ballard! Hooray for Bikes!!

  7. I was there this morning for the official roll out, and it was nice to see so many enthusiastic people who support the program. As I walked around at lunch time I passed two stations and counted a total of about 7 bikes out of their stalls and several pedestrians curious about the bikes and the stations.

    Let’s hope it creates more curiosity from cyclists and non-cyclists and that ultimately Pronto! is a huge success.

  8. Bret says:

    I participated in the 9th and Mercer to Fred Hutch ride out. We had a great ride down Westlake and back through the parking lot trail. The bikes are great, nice and comfy with good gearing. Can’t wait to use it for lunch errands and mid day break rides.

  9. Cheif says:

    Do the bikes have bells?

  10. Alkibkr says:

    I showed up in Pioneer Square about 40 minutes early to get my free-to-annual-members Pronto helmet from Back Ally Bike Repair, but their supply was already cleaned out. Delivered a Pronto cycle to 6th and King in the ID, then enjoyed dim sum and shopping and the new parklet at 6th and Weller. When I carried my backpack in the basket, the bike seemed a little front heavy and hard to balance. I am sure my backpack didn’t weigh 17 lbs, their stated maximum for the basket. I am not a fan of wearing a backpack while biking, but it probably works better that way with these bikes. After returning the bike to Occidental Park (still no helmets at Back Alley), I “Prontoed” my way up to Timbuk2 at 7th and Pine and got my free helmet there. That was my first time on the 2nd Ave cycle track, paid extra attention to the intersections and mid block driveways. I seemed to hit every light going uphill but did better going down. Met several Pronto Riders on the track and we did the bell greeting. You turn the ring on the bell to operate it. I didn’t have any problem finding a bike or a docking space at any of the stations I used. I think the helmet bins will work fine. No excuse not to wear one.

  11. Alkibkr says:

    Just checked my trip history. From Occidental and Main to 7th & Pine with Pronto took 14 minutes 40 seconds using cycle track, sidewalks and streets.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      Obviously, we will need to plan an alleycat race involving bikeshare and posting times to get between stations. Cranksgiving by Pronto? Bike Share Sundae?

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Also, the 3 minute delay to check out a new bike would be a good thing in this case. An opportunity to chat with your fellow racers while you’re waiting for the 3 minutes to lapse.

  12. Jake says:

    I used the bikes this afternoon for several trips to and from meetings around the UW campus. Really nice, and I can really see myself using these around campus on a daily basis!

    But there was one curious thing: for the very first time in my life, I felt silly wearing a helmet – and I generally feel naked without a helmet on my own road/mountain bike. It was an interesting reaction that I did not at all anticipate…

    • Forrest says:

      I was just in NYC & tried their bike share. After getting over the strange terror of not wearing a helmet (thanks to my always-wear-a-helmet-&-seatbelt NW upbringing), I rode around Central Park and even in the streets… without a helmet, & gloriously so! I was slow. The drivers knew I was there (and mostly were too stuck to be any danger, anyway). I’d have to recommend it.

    • Al Dimond says:

      I brought my own helmet from home to try out the system (since I have no shortage of helmets lying around, and happened to be starting my trip from home). On the highway-style streets of downtown Seattle it didn’t feel silly at all. <hidden from=”my mom”>I didn’t usually wear a helmet when puttering around from class to class in college, so it’s not like I’m a totally dogmatic helmet wearer</hidden>

      It’s possible I didn’t totally internalize the bike in my short ride — I think I still dismounted by swinging my leg over the back wheel — but I’m not sure the difference in the bike overwhelms the sameness of the car traffic… and though I rode on routes with lots of bike traffic, I didn’t see many other slow upright riders, nor any other Pronto riders, while I was out.

      • Cheif says:

        As a slow upright bike rider who isn’t dogmatic about helmet wearing (though I choose to more often than not), I applaud your use of the tag.

  13. jon says:

    Used it for trip from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, Prontoed up the 2nd Ave cycle track to Pike where I switched to bus since there is no good bike lane, busy traffic and its uphill. That’s the beauty of bikeshare, you can use bikes where there is good infrastructure and conditions then switch to another mode where its poor biking conditions or where another mode is better, be it foot, transit or even carshare.

  14. Ballardite says:

    Downtown, Capitol Hill and UW people: please make good use of this so they’ll expand up to Fremont and Ballard. I’ll sign up the moment bikes are available there!

    And who should we email to throw support behind getting the helmet law repealed? Is Ed Murray the decision maker? Can anyone post his direct email address?

    • Andres Salomon says:

      Here’s what the King County Executive’s office (KC Exec is Dow Constantine) has to say on the matter:

      “The bicycle helmet law was enacted in King County through the county health code in 1992-at a time when the county’s health authority did not include the city of Seattle. In 2003, the law was expanded to include Seattle after the Seattle City Council formally endorsed the requirement by resolution.

      Changing the regulation would require the approval of the King County Board of Health, a 13-member body comprised of members of the King County Council, Seattle City Council, officials of other King County cities appointed by the Sound Cities Association, health care professionals, and Public Health-Seattle & King County. Although any board member or member of the public can propose changes to regulations, the general path for proposals is through the Board Chair. King County Councilmember Joe McDermott is the current chair.

      Currently, the King County Executive’s Office is not seeking to eliminate or modify the bicycle helmet law. We are aware that helmet use requirements are seen by some as creating a barrier to people who might otherwise be interested in bicycling, but there is also a body of evidence that shows that helmets can prevent serious head injuries, especially among children. Public Health-Seattle & King County is tracking the efforts of the Seattle bicycle share program to find a way to provide helmets for users. ”

      That was from May 2014.

      • jon says:

        I suspect like many things in Seattle the police will look the other way, in this case regarding no helmet riders. That said, cars are really dangerous and there’s no shortage of completely incompetent motorists on the road and so its a good idea to wear a helmet.

      • jay says:

        The old “think of the children” argument, but I don’t think any sane person is advocating removing the requirement that children wear helmets (they can’t use Pronto anyway).

        One thing in the King county regulation:

        9.01.030 Local municipal ordinances.
        A. Nothing in this regulation is intended to limit the ability of local jurisdictions to adopt and enforce requirements regarding bicycle helmets. (R&R No 03-05 (part), 7-18-2003).

        I Am Not A Lawyer, and I don’t know if that might mean only more restrictive requirements, but my layperson’s reading of the actual words suggests Seattle could allow bicyclists to ride without helmets if the city council so desired.

        While looking for the county regulation I came across this statement: “According to the King County Board of Health, if every cyclist wore a helmet, the county could save nearly $10 million a year in direct and indirect costs for head injuries.”

        For comparison, this abstract ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14769621 ) estimates a sedentary life style cost the country “at least” $90 billion/yr. With roughly 2/3 of 1% of the population, King county’s share would be around $600 Million. It would be optimistic to think that bike riding is going to make a huge dent in that, but even 2% would be about a wash with the (likely biased) estimate for the savings due to helmets. And that is ignoring the well publicized recent study that apparently showed that injuries (including head injuries) decreased when bike share was implemented in cities that did not have helmet laws. However, head injuries didn’t decrease quite as much as other injuries, so the headlines said something else entirely.

      • Josh says:

        de Jong evaluates the public health impact of mandatory helmet laws at a national level in his paper.

        Only with a very low value of the health benefits of cycling and a very low impact of a mandatory helmet law on cycling rates can a mandatory helmet law have a positive net impact, even given the relatively high risk of cycling in the U.S. as a whole.

        Where cycling is safer than the U.S. average, the net impact of a helmet law is clearly negative — more life lost to sedentary behavior than gained from prevention of head injuries.

        http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1368064

        Safer streets would be a much better public policy, directly reducing the cyclist death rate while encouraging rather than deterring bicycle transportation. That approach is saving billions of tax dollars in Europe.

  15. Al Dimond says:

    One thing you might need to know if you’re using it on a trial basis: if you get a day pass but not a key (they cost $2 extra), and need to find the bike number in order to check it out, it’s not found on the right side of the downtube (like the diagram on the kiosk display shows), but on the left chainstay.

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  18. Jeff Dubrule says:

    Rode a couple of bikes on Monday. Customer-service had to get my key activated properly, but that was quick & easy. The station (43rd & University Ave) had no helmets, but that didn’t matter, as I found out later that one-size-fits-all does not fit me. I brought my own helmet for just such an eventuality, so no big.

    Checking out a bike is super-quick (like < 5 seconds) and returning is even faster (like a second). Much better than car2gos, where locking & unlocking (and adjusting mirrors & seat, etc.) can add several minutes to a trip. The bike easily adjusted to fit me (I'm 5'11", and set the seat to position 12), though I did find that the seat felt a bit too far forward. Not a huge deal.

    Riding, the steel frame, squishy seat & big tires mean that it does pretty well on rough streets, which is appreciated, given the coverage area. The upright position means that not much weight is on your hands, so they don't get rattled-out, either. Brakes & gear-shifting felt solid.

    These bikes are slow. Really slow. Also heavy. I spent most of my time on the flat in gears 6 or 7, and every time I nudged up to 14-15mph or so, my legs ran out of RPMs. Even a gentle downhill doesn't get much faster. Going up any sort of hill, you're going to want to be patient, use your gears, and don't try to make the light at the top.

    I think, if the program is as popular as we hope, this will be the death of "vehicular cycling" as a design concept in Seattle. Vehicular riding kinda relies on you being able to sprint up to near-traffic speeds on occasion (~20mph), when merging & turning, and that's effectively impossible on a Pronto.
    If any significant # of people are using these on Seattle streets, dedicated bike infrastructure better get deployed fast, as otherwise many 2-lane streets will be limited to 5-10 mph, depending on grade.

  19. Alkibkr says:

    Pronto members: is anyone else having trouble getting to the member log in from the website? I was told the member area is in the upper right hand corner, but I am not seeing that on my screen. They told me to update my Chrome browser but I thought Chrome updates were automatic. When I do get into my account through the link they sent on email, there is no logout option on the page.

  20. Augsburg says:

    “Repeal the helmet Law” Seriously! Have these people never had a front tire blowout and hit the deck? Have they not seen the results of an un-helmeted rider fall? Well, I am a yes to both and would never suggest repealing the helmet law. Although I can appreciate the “natural selection” aspects of a no helmet requirement, I don’t appreciate my tax dollars paying for the emergency response and medical care of those too inexperienced to know to wear a helmet.

    I’m sure the mayor and others would have rather seen the bike share program debut in the Spring with longer days on the horizon. Since that did not happen, I have to wonder about the headlights on these bikes. I’m sure they meet the legal requirement – which is only intended to make sure bikes can be seen by motorists. I am dubious that they provide adequate immunization to ride in the dark at any kind of speed – especially with Seattle’s combination of burned out street lights, potholes, broken pavement and trolly tracks. I know the bikes are slow, but it does not take much speed to overrun your headlights if they don’t have much output. The shared bike programs have largely been implemented in cities with flat terrain and little opportunity for downhill descents at speed. San Francisco is an obvious exception. I wonder if the bikes for Seattle’s program were up spec-ed for headlights. My headlamp is spec-ed at 1600 lumens and I’m sure the bike share bikes have nothing like that, but I’m curious what they did provide. I’m thinking about inexperienced riders, or over age 40 riders with limited night vision hopping on a bike after dark.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      So instead of your tax dollars paying for medical care, your tax dollars will instead pay for a police response. Do you *really* think that the appropriate response to someone not wearing their helmet is, “hey, STOP THAT GUY! Get him off his bicycle! Tackle/taze/shoot him if he doesn’t stop immediately!” Hope he wasn’t wearing headphones or didn’t hear the command to stop.

      Here’s an example of a police response to someone not wearing a helmet: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Man-sues-S-F-cops-over-Baby-Bjorn-incident-5822801.php
      This is a perfectly legitimate and appropriate response, yes? This citizen is now much safer thanks to a helmet law and police enforcement. Laws should be used for serious offenses. Not wearing a helmet is not a serious offense.

    • Josh says:

      Personally, I resent the increased public health care costs imposed by the mandatory helmet law.

      Head injuries are serious, but relatively rare.

      Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions of a sedentary lifestyle are extremely common and extremely expensive.

      The math is quite clear, even if helmets are as effective as their strongest supporters claim, the net impact of a mandatory helmet law is an increase in public health care spending and a net loss of life.

      I strongly support helmet use, I’ve been using one myself for more than 30 years, but as a proponent of public health, I oppose mandatory helmet laws because they are bad public policy and impose a net cost on society.

      • CLV says:

        I haven’t done due diligence to read every study, but am skeptical that a sedentary lifestyle is due to helmet laws being in effect. The issue of sedentary lifestyles are complex to understand. And policy, while never perfect, comes about not only for economical reasons but also social ones. The emotional cost of head injury to individuals and those that care about them them is extremely harsh.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Generally prefixing a statement with, “I haven’t read the studies, but..” means that you probably shouldn’t be making that statement.

        But since it sounds like you might like to read some studies, here’s one from 2009:
        http://www.education.uci.edu/docs/Carpenter_Stehr%20Bicycle_Manuscript_50409.pdf
        “ABSTRACT
        Over 20 states have adopted laws requiring youths to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. We confirm previous research indicating that these laws reduced fatalities and increased helmet use, but we also show that the laws significantly reduced youth bicycling. ”
        Freakonomics did a blog post about it back in 2010:
        http://freakonomics.com/2010/01/19/do-bike-helmet-laws-discourage-bicycling/

        Or maybe you’d like some personal anecdotes? I have a bakfiet. I started biking with my son in the bakfiet when he was 4 months old. However, he was strapped to an infant car seat, which was (rachet) strapped to the frame of the bike. When he outgrew the infant seat (I forget when; maybe 10 months?), we switched him to an upright sitting position with padding and child seat straps.

        None of the child helmets we could find fit him until he was around 2 years old. They slid all over his head, and no amount of foam would make it stay in place.

        I was fine biking around with him not having a helmet, because he was in a safer position than *I* was. However, on at least 3 occasions, people on the Burke-Gilman Trail chastised me for his lack of helmet (one of them bringing up the law). In addition, my wife was not comfortable taking him on the cargo bike due to the helmet thing. She was fine with him being in there with me, but didn’t feel comfortable breaking the law. So they took the bus a lot.
        So there’s an example of how the helmet law had the effect of reducing at least a couple dozen bike trips here in Seattle.

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