Pronto Cycle Share announced a new partnership with Bellweather Housing last week, expanding the number of low-income residents who have access to reduced cost Pronto memberships to nearly 5,000.
Bellweather joins Capitol Hill Housing in providing residents access to annual memberships as low as $20 for people making 30 percent of median income or less (prices increase based on income: $30 for people making 50 percent or less, $40 for people making 80 percent or less), according to a story by Josh Cohen at Next City. And remember, the full price of $85 for a year is already a screaming deal. The lowest price would get you one year for less than the cost of just three day passes at full price.
The new partnerships will be great for people who live in the right buildings and have the chance to learn about the program and sign up. But experience from other cities and Pronto’s first couple months offering subsidized memberships show that it’s going to take a lot more work and investment to reach large numbers of low-income Seattleites (Cohen reports that only 34 subsidized passes have been sold since they first started offering them three months ago, though there has been limited outreach).
Transportation is a huge cost for people trying to scrape by in Seattle, so an affordable bike share system could be a huge boost for affordability. Partnering with affordable housing providers is one way to reach people and vet their income levels, but it only scratches the surface.
The ORCA Lift low-income transit card program requires people to go to certain locations to sign up in person. You need to bring any of a list of documents to prove you qualify, but you don’t need to be in subsidized housing. Even this process may be burdensome or confusing enough to miss many potential users, but it’s much easier to access than Pronto’s low-cost passes.
As Cohen reports, Pronto knows its work is not done:
[Pronto Executive Director Holly] Houser says subsidized memberships are just “one part of a larger menu of ways we [plan to] address equitable access to bike-share.”
Among the ideas being considered: reciprocity for Seattle residents with the reduced-fare regional transit pass Orca Lift; increased resources to help unbanked residents get bank cards through nonprofit Bank On; and potentially, establishment of a cash payment option, though Houser says that requires a huge investment in equipment.
Another idea entering the American bike share world comes from Los Angeles: Allow transfers between bikes and transit. Rather than charge for day or annual passes with unlimited 30-minute trips (the pay model for Pronto and nearly every other US bike share system), Los Angeles is considering a system that would charge a per-trip fare that allows transferring to and from transit. So someone who already paid for the bus wouldn’t have to pay again to complete their trip on a bike and vice versa.
The good news is that Seattle is already planning to integrate a dramatically-expanded Pronto system into ORCA, paving the way for transit transfers. But that expansion and remake of the fare system currently depends on a competitive TIGER grant from the Feds. We should learn the outcome of that grant next month.
A fare-based system with transit transfers is much more easily accessible to people without much cash to spare. Today, the $8/day rate is a bit steep for someone only looking to make one or two trips, especially if they also need to pay for the bus. Plus, there’s no need to sign people up for any new programs: ORCA Lift enrollees could just get their reduced rate on bikes as well as transit (though annual memberships might still make sense, too. Seattle’s Pronto grant says they are studying the options).
But in the meantime, affordable housing managers should email Pronto’s Sean Conroe at sean (at) prontocycleshare dot com to become a partner and help get residents a great deal on bike share memberships.