In 1 month Pronto users biked distance from Seattle to NY 8 times + Helmet theft rate down

tumblr_inline_nezqccrxF41se3we0Pronto Cycle Share is a month old, and I already can’t imagine Seattle without it.

In just the first month, 1,760 annual members, 1,856 24-hour pass holders and 156 three-day pass holders used the system to make 10,747 trips and travel 22,663 miles on the bike share system. And as Pronto noted in a blog post, that was during the fifth-wettest October ever recorded.

That means Pronto users have already biked the distance from Seattle to New York. Eight times. It’s also just 2,200 miles shy of a trip around the equator (hey, that’s a good goal for November!).

That’s pretty impressive considering the average trip is less than 15 minutes.

So use is pretty strong (though not overwhelming) despite worries that the all ages helmet law in Seattle and King County would sink the bike share system.

The most active stations so far are:

  • E. Harrison St. & Broadway Ave E. (Capitol Hill)
  • 3rd & Pike (Downtown)
  • 11th Ave. & Pine St. (Capitol Hill)
  • E. Pine & 16th St. (Capitol Hill)
  • Occidental Ave S. & S. Washington St. (Pioneer Square).

How’s the helmet thing going?

But this success is propped up at a cost, and the path forward for the helmet solution is far from clear. Alta Bicycle Share, which operates Pronto, was unable to deliver the planned helmet vending machines in time due to manufacturer delays. So in order to stay one target with the launch, Alta has packed unlocked bins next to bike share stations with clean helmets, and asks users to borrow one for free and return them on the honor system. They also sent coupons to every annual member offering a free Pronto helmet, which can be picked up from a short list of retailers (so if you see someone wearing a Pronto helmet while riding their own bike, it might not actually be stolen).

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that helmets were getting stolen like crazy in the first couple weeks. 30 percent were stolen in the first week alone. But as time goes on, the helmets are disappearing less and less. The weekly loss rate is now down to 15 percent, according to Pronto Executive Director Holly Houser.

This could be because many people without a helmet who saw the bins as their chance at a free one have already taken one. It could also be that a lot of members who received the coupon for a free helmet simply took one from the bin rather than go to a retail outlet. The next month or two will give a better idea of what the ongoing helmet theft rate will look like.

And the results could impact the way forward for a helmet solution. If the theft rate is low enough, maybe buying pricey and largely untested vending machines is not the most cost-effective way to provide helmets. While the vending machine is still “a plausible solution,” Houser said they are also looking for options that might be “cheaper and more efficient.”

So how about bike thefts?

Well, there has been one apparent attempt to steal a Pronto bike, but it didn’t get very far. Houser said someone noticed a Pronto bike that had been “artistically decorated” and repainted hanging out at 3rd and Pike. Pronto staff were able to swing by in the van and recover it, but it may have been damaged beyond repair.

She stressed that it is important for all users to wait until they see the green light when docking a bike. If you leave the bike undocked, then anyone can come along and take it. The meter will also keep ticking away, adding overage charges to your account (though if you call and explain your situation, Pronto customer service will likely refund at least some of the costs).

Low-income memberships

Houser said Pronto is still working through the details of low-income memberships for affordable housing residents, but those discounted memberships will be available to residents through their housing provider. Residents should hear from the agencies behind their buildings, and Pronto will also be visiting many buildings to help people know how to get the discount and how to use the system.

People living in buildings that are part of Seattle’s Residential Travel Options Program should also be able to score a discounted rate. If you think you might live in a qualifying building, ask your building manager or housing authority about it.

The city has also received a grant to help expand low-income access to Pronto, and Mayor Ed Murray has included funding in his budget to take advantage of that grant and expand the system into the International District, Yesler Terrace and the Central District in 2015. The city will also have funding for focused outreach efforts to reach low-income populations throughout the city and to potentially expand the low-income membership options.

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14 Responses to In 1 month Pronto users biked distance from Seattle to NY 8 times + Helmet theft rate down

  1. PattyLyman says:

    It’s great to see Pronto bikeshare doing well, even though a fall weather start. I hope the city plans to support the bike share going south- the central district is becoming very gentrified and is no longer a low income area, whereas the Rainier Valley area is the most diverse zip code area.

    • Jay says:

      Not so sure that is really doing all that well. It looks like the first week (where the novelty/anticipation was a factor) got 4000 rides: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2014/10/23/after-4000-rides-and-1450-members-in-first-week-pronto-is-throwing-a-party-tonight/
      If one subtracts the first week and 4000 rides from the first month and ~11,000 rides, that is about 0.6 rides per day per bike for the last three weeks . While that is 50% more than the unsourced 0.4 mentioned in the following video, it is still not a very impressive number, even for a rainy October (and, unlike Melbourne, Seattle did have free helmets available the first month). Caution! do not click following link! , or if you must, read the description before playing: “Warning – four letter words are used in this parody and some viewers may be offended.” also, Godwin’s law . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADoy7GgnF_s (still, it is a parody, and the words are subtitles, not spoken, or not in English anyway)

      Also, in the “related” above, is: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2014/07/29/how-pronto-plans-to-make-bike-share-work-even-with-seattles-helmet-law/
      “But lest you point to Melbourne’s mostly failed system as evidence that it cannot work, Pronto is going well above and beyond Melbourne’s efforts by installing a helmet vending machine at all 50 stations.”
      Or maybe not?
      ” While the vending machine is still “a plausible solution,” Houser said they are also looking for options that might be “cheaper and more efficient.””

      Well, the Melbourne system of hanging free helmets on the bikes and neither cleaning or inspecting them is probably cheaper. While handing out helmets for free does avoid the cost of the (vapor ware) vending machines, one would not be getting the revenue one would get from the machines. On the other hand, the cost of renting a helmet would undoubtedly reduce the already low usage.

      Of course the obvious “cheaper and more efficient” method would be to get rid of the helmet law, remember section 9.01.030 in the “helmet law”

      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.

      While there may be no chance of getting the King County board of health to change their minds, perhaps Seattle could?
      (if Pronto fails, or looks like it will, before the next election, it would not be great for those who voted to put public money into it)

      Another point of comparison, while looking to see what is going on with the proposed Vancouver BC bike share (no particularly recent updates, they still say they will have helmet vending machines, but don’t say who will be building them, though Alta will have to provide them) I found a presentation made to the “Council” in 2013, in it there are examples of other bike share projects, one example was Divvy, which launched with 700 bikes, 61 stations (it is much larger now), about 50% bigger (by number of bikes, not so much by stations) than Pronto, it was written that Divvy had 50,000 rides the first 3 weeks (and those riders rode a significant fraction of the distance between Chicago and the Moon), adjusting for the larger system, that is still about 3.3 times Pronto’s first month. Well, sure, Divvy launched in nearly July, and if one looks at the Fremont bridge counter numbers one will see that October/November has lower numbers then July, Nov ’13 was about half of Jul ’13. 3.3/2 = 1.65 times as many rides as Pronto (very roughly adjusted for season) and Chicago does not have an all ages helmet law! Well, Looks like Pronto may not be doing so bad after all!

      I understand why people who do studies on helmet effectiveness don’t like to look at their own numbers, it tends to totally screw-up ones point.

      It will be interesting to see what Jul ’15 looks like. Now if Pronto can just expand to the thousands of bikes the really successful systems have! (and figure out a way to pay for day to day operations, which few if any systems do, other than by government subsidy)
      One other thing, looks the Vancouver system _was_ expecting the “helmet distribution systems” to come from Bixi,
      “Staff reviewed three different vending systems and have selected PBSC/Bixi’s system”
      Perhaps there was a good reason they rejected the other two?
      I had been wondering why Pronto was having so much trouble when Vancouver seemed to have [thought they had] it figured out (of course Vancouver doesn’t actually have a public bike share).

      • Cheif says:

        And the anti helmet zealots continue to compete fiercely with the vegans for their total evangelical devotion to something so pointless and utter humorlessness while doing so. Congratulations.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        While I agree that the helmet law should be changed, I also understand that many people in Seattle will want a helmet to be available. It’s a cultural issue, and anyone who has ever biked without a helmet knows that people will inevitably say something to you about it. The idea that helmets are vital for all and every bicycle ride has been ingrained in the minds of most Seattleites, and that won’t disappear over night just because the law is changed.

        So while I think it is silly to have police go around ticketing people for riding a bike without a helmet, providing an option to check out a helmet for people who want one does make sense. It’s marketing, and the Seattle market demands it. Maybe that will change when cycling increases and the network of protected bike lanes expands, but we’re not there yet culturally.

        My hope is that helmet thefts drop enough that no further system is needed. Either that or Pronto comes up with a simple rental system that doesn’t require a fancy, expensive and mostly untested vending machine.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        If we truly believe that helmets are beneficial, then we could also view the Pronto helmet bins as a public good. Sort of like street trees and public parks, something that lowers Seattle’s total medical cost. There’s an open question of who should be funding a public good with medical benefit, of course.

        With that in mind, I too hope that vending machines end up being unnecessary.

        Regarding helmets, one thing I’m wondering is whether the load of usage is higher than the theft load:

        Pronto User A doesn’t own a helmet. She has a yearly membership, and uses Pronto at least 3 times per week. Every time she uses a bike, she takes a clean helmet. At the end of her trip, she fastidiously puts her helmet in the used bin. Pronto spends $x picking up her used helmets, cleaning them, packaging them in plastic, and returning them to stations.

        Pronto User B doesn’t own a helmet. She has a yearly membership, and uses Pronto at least 3 times per week. On her first trip, she took a clean helmet. Instead of returning it, she took it home. She keeps it with her, and uses it every time she rides, but never returns it. Pronto spent $y on the initial cost of the helmet and the cost of sticking it in the bin the first time.

        User B’s helmet is considered stolen. However, once the upfront cost is paid ($y), that’s it. User A has no upfront cost on the helmet, but continues to cost Pronto money for every use ($x * # of uses). Which benefits Pronto? User B certainly results in less packaging and distribution waste. Which benefits Pronto users? At a particularly busy station, having 20 users who all need helmets results in a quickly empty helmet bin. User 21 is out of luck. I would suspect that User B is also more beneficial to other users as well. Of course, all of this assumes User B continues to use Pronto. If they’re stealing a helmet for their own bike usage, then both Pronto and Pronto users lose out.

      • Steve Campbell says:

        If only we lived in a state that gave its citizens the ability to place initiatives on the ballot to change laws and regulations when their elected representatives refuse to act.

      • jay says:

        For what is worth, I bought a new helmet yesterday at a Seattle merchant (possibly a SBB advertiser), so people who want a helmet can certainly get one. I always wear a helmet, and I too think the anti-helmet zealots are generally over the top, however I thought the video was hilarious (humor is subjective), I was concerned that maybe it was too soon, but Hogan’s heroes came out 50 years ago, so maybe it’s not too soon for a parody .

        Generally I’d be pro helmet, but there seems to be some evidence that the “safety in numbers” effect trumps helmets. (so perhaps not “pointless”) Since I’d wear a helmet anyway, if repealing the helmet law increased bicycling I’d get benefit of both! Sure it would be great to give every one the same option, but since as far as I can tell no public bike share is really self supporting, someone is going to have to pay for the helmets. Calling it a public safety issue and letting the government pay for it would be fine with me. But if it is in fact true that the safety in numbers effect is bigger than the benefit of helmets and that mandatory helmets reduce the numbers then perhaps that is not the best public safety action. However there are a lot of assumptions on both sides. There is one paper that purports to show a significant negative effect on overall health due to mandatory helmet laws, but it has a lot of statistics stuff I don’t really understand, I do however remember reading “assume”(or equivalent word) more than once.

        If one Googles “helmethub” one will find that their idea was to provide helmets to people who wanted one, but were not required to have one for the Boston Hubway bike share, thus giving people the choice. Unfortunately, they seem to have been better at press releases than hardware/business.

  2. Andres Salomon says:

    I’m one of those users who had a voucher for a free helmet, and just grabbed one from a station. I left my coupon voucher in the used helmet bin. Hopefully that’s cool with Pronto!

    I tried two different bike shops listed on the voucher, but they were both out of helmets (the station next to the second bike shop was also out of helmets). So, I figured taking one from a station was the way to go.

  3. Just some gotchas to watchout :) The Denny way docking station is having quite some slowness etc. I tried undocking a bike the orance light went on blinking.. I assumed it wont work (my mistake) started trying other cycles. Kept getting red. Went to the Denny Way Westlake stn. same red. called up customer service and she said there was bike released. ran all the way back to denny way. saw the bike was released. I have seen that in past if we don’t grab the bike it gets locked back automatically which didnt happen this time. Other older issues (which are sort of resolved) are stations going into standby and get cannot get a bike until we wake up the station which took 5 to 10 mins. Some stations Eastlake have a slot (2nd one) permanently not working. we cant dock into them at all. Otherwise it has been great so far.

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