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Pronto Cycle Share starts charging day-pass users $2 to rent a helmet

Pronto workers reinstall the helmet box at Bellevue and Pine
Pronto workers reinstall the helmet box at Bellevue and Pine

If you buy a 24-hour or three-day pass to use Pronto Cycle Share, you will now have to pay an extra $2 to check out a helmet.

The bike share service activated the locks on their helmet bins today, which now require a key code to open. Previously, the bins were completely unlocked and Pronto users were able to borrow cleaned-and-inspected helmets for free and return them on the honor system.

Pronto reports a relatively low theft rate of about 5 percent. Many of these thefts occurred shortly after the system launched in October. Perhaps everyone looking to snag a free helmet has now done so. Early annual members also received a coupon for a free Pronto helmet to keep, and many of them may have taken it from the bin rather than from the select retail outlets like they were supposed to (*wags finger*).

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Of course, the return bins will remain unlocked, so future helmet thieves or people looking to skip the $2 charge can still score a free helmet so long as they’re willing to risk getting your head lice.

Originally, Pronto planned to have helmet vending machines at each station, but there is no “commercially viable helmet-vending machine available in the U.S.,” according to a Pronto press release (read the full release below).

Annual members will get emails periodically telling them the code to continue getting free helmet rentals. They can also find the code in the Members Area of the Pronto website. So that’s one more incentive to become an annual member.

More details about the helmet rental change, from Pronto:

When Pronto Cycle Share launched last fall, it became the first bike-share program in North America to provide helmets at every station. On Wednesday, May 13, following the program’s successful low-tech helmet-distribution system pilot, Pronto is upgrading the system to heighten security and minimize theft. This upgrade will ensure that Pronto can continue to offer convenient access to helmets for all users.

The new helmet solution is the result of a collaborative design process by Pronto and Motivate, the operator of Pronto, along with 8D, the program’s technology vendor. In the absence of a commercially viable helmet-vending machine available in the U.S., the team worked together to create a cost-effective and practical method to distribute helmets at every station, leveraging the available technology from 8D.

“Our pilot system was intended to be temporary, but we’ve found it to be a simple, efficient, cost-effective solution that ensures all users have access to a safe and reliable helmet,” Pronto Executive Director Holly Houser said.  “Our long-term solution uses our current infrastructure and upgrades it with additional security to reduce helmet loss. It’s a win all around.”

“We needed to find a way for Pronto to be able to provide on-the-spot helmet access for their riders,” said Motivate CEO Jay Walder. “We think we’ve found a solution that works for Seattle and can be scaled to other cities and sponsors who want to make bike share an even safer and more convenient option.”

Until now, the current set-up relied on an honor system, resulting in relatively low loss rates – an average of less than 5 percent of helmets in the field, according to Pronto. The new solution will require users to enter a code to retrieve a helmet.

Annual members can continue to borrow helmets for free, and will receive a complimentary code to unlock the bins and access a helmet. Short-term users (riders who purchase 24-hour and 3-day passes) can obtain a code to rent a helmet at the kiosk for $2, which they can keep for the duration of the pass period and then return to any station.

Under the new system, helmets will continue to be sanitized and inspected after each use, and Pronto staff will stock and redistribute helmets throughout the day via specially designed bikes equipped with helmet-carrying trailers to ensure enough helmets are always available for system users.

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48 responses to “Pronto Cycle Share starts charging day-pass users $2 to rent a helmet”

  1. Marge Evans

    is there any penalty if you ride the bike without a helmet?

    1. Cheif

      You can be pulled over and issued a ticket by the police. Nonpayment of the ticket can result in suspension of your drivers license for some reason.

    2. jay

      Technically* there is, a quick search finds between “$30 plus court costs” and “$103″ (presumably the total of applicable fine and other fees, but not explained in detail). But there are also penalties for speeding or failure to yield (stop) for pedestrians, and considering how much those are enforced…
      But even if one is ticketed, the fine is a little bit less than for killing a pedestrian with a car, so there is that.

      ” can still score a free helmet so long as they’re willing to risk getting your head lice.”
      that $2 isn’t any guarantee either: “but Motivate and the other Released Persons do not represent or warrant the quality, safety characteristics or cleanliness of any helmet.”

      “relatively low loss rates – an average of less than 5 percent of helmets in the field”
      Isn’t that lower than the replacement rate for wear and tear and cooties? Sure, I wear my helmets a lot more than 20 times before replacing them, but I’m the only one who wears them and I paid more than $2 so I’m motivated to be somewhat careful with them. I do imagine thieves are going to take the nicest looking, not the grungiest, so it’s not a fair comparison, but still, why alienate the potential customers you actually have a chance of making some money on, for what is not much more than rounding error while subsidizing the ones you loose money on?

      * https://xkcd.com/1475/

  2. Merlin

    That’s the law; Pronto won’t charge you a fine.

  3. bill

    Why does everyone have their knickers in a twist over the helmet law? Look around. It’s not enforced!

    1. Josh

      Or at least, not frequently enforced against well-dressed light-skinned adults in the neighborhoods where you’re likely to be riding Pronto.

      1. Zach

        It’s true. I am a well-dressed white male in Capitol Hill who cycles to work, and I wear a helmet about half the time. I’ve never once gotten even a side glance from the cops I’ve passed. It’s likely a combination of my privilege and cops just having way more important things to worry about.

        Though I break the helmet law willingly, I’d love to see other laws enforced, especially red lights. At least come to a full Idaho stop!

      2. Joseph Singer

        “Though I break the helmet law willingly, I’d love to see other laws enforced, especially red lights. At least come to a full Idaho stop!”

        Unfortunately, you live in Washington state where “Idaho stop” is not deemed legitimate. So, it’s OK to break the laws you don’t like and bad to break laws that you do not care for. So, it’s not OK to break the law but it’s OK to “bend it a little?” :)

      3. Duncan Watson

        When cycling I often break a number of laws. Many are of the safety for myself category, others are the convenience category. Note that this is completely identical to the way motor vehicle drivers obey laws.

        I roll through stops on the BG as it crosses Kenmore. I run red lights where I am facing an uphill start and my bike isn’t detected, I don’t wait 2 full cycles either since I know it isn’t going to get me and you can’t measure a cycle when the light never turns. I take the lane. In some areas I am speeding, especially when going downhill.

        I obey more rules than I ignore but I won’t put myself in danger to satisfy poor legislation. None of this is a shock and many cyclists ride this way.

      4. Cheif

        It is not illegal to take the lane.

  4. Joseph Singer

    I see lots of Pronto riders who do not wear helmets.

    1. Zach

      Count me as one of them. Wearing a helmet when riding slow and upright just feels unnecessary to me.

      1. Law Abider

        Yes, by your comment, it’s clear that you don’t really use your head, so why protect it?

      2. Joseph Singer

        If you think your opinion on mandatory helmets is the view held by everyone you are sorely mistaken.

      3. daihard

        Law Abider, do you wear a helmet while out on a walk? Or while taking a shower?

  5. Joseph Singer

    When are they going to require automobile drivers to wear helmets? It’s every bit as dangerous to be in a vehicle without protection.

    1. daihard

      +1,000. Mandatory helmet law is one of the dumbest laws.

    2. Law Abider

      Seatbelts (required), airbags, crumple zones, etc don’t count as protection?

      1. daihard

        Helmets are not required while you walk or even run in public. Why do they have to be while riding slowly / casually?

      2. Law Abider

        Humans have millions of years of evolutionary history favoring walking upright, which means we have natural methods of protecting ourselves if we fall while walking. Falling while biking is a much different type of fall, one our bodies have not adjusted for.

  6. daihard

    Charging non-members $2 for a helmet is pretty stupid, if you ask me. With the theft rate that low, I would continue to provide helmets free of charge. Or at the very least, they should include the helmet fee in the pass so the non-members (such as tourists) don’t have to take an extra step to pay for a helmet.

  7. Josh

    It’s time for the Legislature to end this.

    Motor vehicle equipment regulations are uniform state-wide. Can you imagine stopping at city lines to adjust your headlights if we allowed individual cities or counties to regulate the equipment needed for cars?

    Bicycles are an afterthought in state law, and individual cities are free to impose rules that can change in the length of a short bike ride. Helmets are the most obvious, but some Washington cities still have bicycle licensing laws, others have reflector requirements that differ from state law, or even different rules of the road for bicycles than provided under state law.

    It’s time for that to stop. Someone bicycling from Tacoma to Seattle shouldn’t be riding through six or eight different sets of bicycle laws.

    The Legislature should pre-empt the field of bicycle regulation and impose a single, state-wide set of requirements that no city or county can add to.

    1. Law Abider

      Helmets required for all. Done.

      1. Josh

        I don’t think the Legislature would be willing to pay for the increased public health costs of a mandatory helmet law state-wide. I certainly don’t want my taxes going up to cover the health impacts of a helmet law.

        There’s essentially no doubt that mandatory helmet laws have a negative overall impact on public health.


      2. jay

        Damn right Helmets For Everybody! of course that would include you when you get out of your giant pickup that you parked six inches into the bike lane.

        I’ll bet Ms. Redacted wishes Mr. Warnick had been wearing a helmet. Since it has been about four months she probably knows by now about how large of number is in front of those six zeros on the lawsuit ( http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2015/01/30/no-charges-for-person-who-killed-man-walking-his-dog-in-a-kirkland-crosswalk/ )

        And no doubt little Zeytuna and her family wish she had been wearing a helmet. In that case the driver fled, so nobody “knows” who it is, but since this is ‘Merica, I imagine the vehicle owner is going to be sued anyway, and months in the hospital costs a lot.

        Of course there will be some complications, obviously requiring helmets in hair salons is a bit silly; http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2014/09/04/columbia-city-shaken-after-person-drives-into-building-community-walk-friday/ perhaps business can be relegated to upper floors and the first floor of buildings reserved for parking cars?

        I think that “essentially no doubt” may be overstating things just a wee bit, Mr. de Jong uses variations of “assume” 13 times in his paper. I am not a statistician, and I do understand that sometimes for practical purposes one does have to assume some things: https://xkcd.com/669/ but still, I think it is more a pretty good suggestion, than “no doubt”. Sure there it looks like there is a pretty strong inverse correlation ( https://xkcd.com/552/ ) between cycling rate and the cycling death rate. However, the correlation between helmet use and cycling rate seems weaker, while there is a trend in that direction, there is also a lot of variation. Note Sweden in de Jong’s Table II. third highest cycling rate, second lowest death rate, fourth highest helmet use (and the home of “Vision Zero”, you may have heard about “Vision Zero”, it seems to be all the rage these days)
        Besides which, people with a lot more influence than you will lie through their teeth about the statistics on the anti-bicycle side of the argument.

        In the long run, “Law Abider’s” plan to have _everybody_ wear a helmet sounds better to me (see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States )

      3. Law Abider

        That paper makes the fatal assumption that people don’t bike because of helmet laws. If you’ve ever biked a day in Seattle, you’d know that assumption is terribly flawed.

        If you don’t like the helmet laws because you don’t like wearing helmets, just say so.

      4. daihard

        I don’t like the mandatory helmet law because there are the types of rides that don’t require wearing one. Look at the people who bike in countries like Japan and the Netherlands. Those who ride fast tend to wear helmets. Those who ride slowly tend not to. It should be left up to the individual.

      5. Josh

        de Jong’s paper does make various assumptions, but consider what assumptions those are:

        * Assume that risk compensation does not exist — the accident rate is not changed by wearing a helmet. That’s a dubious assumption, risk compensation is probably real, but it makes the math easier to assume the accident rate is constant.

        * Assume that riders who ride less because of a helmet law are at average risk, not low-risk casual riders.

        * Assume an otimistic estimate of the effectiveness of helmets at preventing head injuries.

        * Assume a pessimistic benefit-cost ratio for the health benefits of cycling.

        In other words, assumption after assumption is intentionally tilted favorable to helmet legislation.

        Consider, too, that his estimate for the U.S. uses national cycling and death rates, making his estimates again tilt favorable to helmet legislation, while the Washington legislature would be looking specifically at Washington’s significantly lower cycling death rate and higher cycling participation rate, making the net public health cost of a helmet law higher here than it would be nationally.

        Using elementary mathematical modeling and
        parameter estimates from previous studies, leads to
        reasonable bounds for the net health impact of a
        mandatory bicycle helmet law. The model highlights
        the importance of four parameters in any evaluation:
        helmet efficiency, the behavioural response of riders
        to the law, the benefit/cost ratio of cycling, and the
        proportion of injuries in cycling due to head injuries.
        These key parameters oer critical testable points for
        assessing the net impact.

        A (positive) net health benefit emerges only in
        dangerous bicycling environments under optimistic
        assumptions as to the efficacy of helmets and a minor
        behavioral response.

      6. Law Abider

        Well, lucky for you enforcement of the law is non-existent, so you can continue riding helmetless. I am fully in support of the helmet law becoming a secondary offense, which is more of less how it is enforced these days.

      7. Josh

        Actually, it’s more often used as a pretextual offense than a secondary — that is, it’s a defensible reason to stop someone cycling while black, poor, young, or vaguely out-of-place. It gives officers a race- and class-neutral excuse to stop and question people.

        If they don’t then find cause for a more serious violation, they may not bother with the helmet citation at all, since the safety of the person they stopped wasn’t really their concern to begin with.

      8. Andres Salomon

        You are incorrect that enforcement is non-existant. The helmet law *is* enforced in Seattle. As a matter of fact, it is the most-enforced bike-specific law in Seattle:


        For posterity, https://twitter.com/NEGreenways/status/599448007092752384 has a screenshot.

        Thankfully, the rate of citations is coming down from its peak in 2011, but don’t for a minute think that all of this complaining about the helmet law is merely academic. It is enforced, and it has consequences. My wife avoided biking with my kid when he was too young to fit into his helmet, for example, despite having him in a bakfiet with infant carrier, entirely because of the helmet law and cultural norms that the law has enabled (ie, busybodies on the Burke who feel the need to tell you that helmets are required).

  8. Andres Salomon

    If Pronto (or the funders backing Pronto – including Seattle Children’s) thinks that providing helmets is overall a public good, they would leave the bins unlocked and let people take or borrow them for free. *Especially* given the loss rate of a mere 5%. Seattle Children’s has events where they away free helmet to kids on a regular basis.

    However, if Pronto is doing this simply to comply with the bullshit helmet law (CYA), then locking the bins makes sense.

    1. Law Abider

      Bullshit why? Because of that single-source, correlation/causation Melbourne study from the 80s? Or because you just don’t feel like wearing a helmet?

      Beyond those two bullshit excuses, I’ve never heard a reasonable excuse for ditching the helmet law. It’s clearly had no effect on cycling rates in Seattle.

      1. Josh

        And you can demonstrate that the helmet law has not stopped a single person from taking a single bike ride how, exactly?

  9. Jeff

    When I went to pick up my free helmet, all the retail stores had run out and with a few of them told me to just pick one out from the bins.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Ditto; except they didn’t tell me to do that, I just decided to stop wasting time checking stores and do it.

  10. Kingsley Robson

    Are folks getting communications from pronto? Were it not for this site I’d have no idea about the change until I arrived at a station.

    1. Andres Salomon

      I got an email from them with the subject “Subject: Important Helmet Bin Update” and the bin code.

    2. daihard

      I got an e-mail notification from Pronto, as well, with an unlock code.

  11. Joseph

    This strikes me as just another disincentive for a casual user to try Pronto.

    A few weeks back I wanted to take Pronto to a Sounders game from Capitol Hill, a short all-downhill ride, and way faster than walking. What an awesome idea!

    EXCEPT the minimum price is $8 for a 24-hour rental. I don’t need 24 hours to ride to the Sounders.

    And $8 to avoid walking downhill is ridiculous. If I’m that lazy I’ll pay $3 for Metro. And now that $8 has just become $10.

    Are they TRYING to discourage casual users from trying Pronto? Can’t they figure out some low-cost entry price to try out a one-way bike trip? That’s where bike share would shine. For a round trip I can take my own bike.


  12. Todd

    These stupid rental bikes have no interest to me at all. If I didn’t own a bike, I might be. But I do and I could care-a-less if people use them or not. So I certainly don’t give a rip if they abide by the law or not. FWIW, I wear a helmet all the time but I certainly do care if you or anyone else does. And I certainly would pay $2 a day to catch some head lice.

    1. Todd

      I certainly “don’t” care if you or anyone else does. And I certainly “wouldn’t” pay… Yeah, I know, I have effective typing skills.

  13. Andres

    I recommend purchasing the foldable helmet Fuga by http://www.closca.co

  14. Gary Busey

    All those who quibble about the nuances of bike helmet law – Please remember the fate of Gary Busey. yes it was a motorcycle, but it was a slow speed accident –
    On December 4, 1988, Busey was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in which he was not wearing a helmet. His skull was fractured, and doctors feared he suffered permanent brain damage.[19] During the filming of the second season of Celebrity Rehab in 2008, Busey was referred to psychiatrist Dr. Charles Sophy. Sophy suspected that Busey’s brain injury has had a greater effect on him than realized. He described it as essentially weakening his mental “filters” and causing him to speak and act impulsively.

    Gary Busey

  15. […] 2015 – SDOT meets with PSBS board about buyout plan. Pronto puts locks on helmet bins, starts charging day pass users $2 per helmet […]

  16. […] Pronto initially provided helmets at its docking stations for free, but then began charging $2 per rental. […]

  17. […] Pronto initially provided helmets at its docking stations for free, but then began charging $ 2 per rental. […]

  18. […] Pronto initially provided helmets at its docking stations for free, but then began charging $2 per rental. […]

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