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Houser stepping down as bike share Director

Photo from Pronto
Photo from Pronto

As Pronto Cycle Share nears its first birthday, the Holly Houser is handing over the helm.

Houser has been Executive Director of Puget Sound Bike Share, the non-profit behind Pronto, since late 2012. From selecting an operating company (Alta Bicycle Share, which was bought by Motivate) to finding major sponsors to uniting the city government behind the system, Houser has had a busy couple years (oh, and did I mention she’s also in the rock band Gibraltar?).

Now that the system approaches one year of operations, there are big plans from inside the City of Seattle to take over and dramatically expand the system (see our previous story).

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“We’ve been working collaboratively with the City of Seattle to make steps toward our vision to weave bike share into the region’s public transportation network,” Houser said in an email to users, “and we’re pleased to have them take on a more prominent role in leading those efforts.

“This is a natural progression for our program, and one that we believe best positions Pronto for a bright and vibrant future.”

Next month, Houser will step down as Pronto ED to “tak[e] on new challenges outside of the transportation sector.”

Here’s the full email:

Dear Friends of Pronto,

It’s hard to believe that the one-year anniversary of bike share in Seattle is right around the corner! When I think about what we’ve accomplished over the past year and the time leading up to our launch, I’m humbled with gratitude by all of the ways you’ve helped get us here.

It’s in this spirit that I’m reaching out to share some news about the road ahead for Pronto, and some changes that are in store for me, too. I joined the nonprofit in 2012 and was entrusted with the mission to introduce bike share as a viable transportation option for residents and visitors to our city. Today I am incredibly proud to have been part of the team that realized that vision.

We couldn’t have done it without the support of so many important advocates – our sponsors, community partners, volunteer board, allies at the City of Seattle, and countless others. Together we faced challenges, created solutions, and accomplished what some might have deemed impossible – launching bike share at a time the industry was rife with challenges, and in a year no other city made the same attempt.

But, thanks to your support, our community-backed grassroots efforts led a successful rollout, and now nearly a year’s worth of milestones that have reflected the importance of bike share to this community. Together, we’ve achieved some amazing results over the past 10 months:

  • Became the first bike share program in North America to provide helmets at every station
  • Logged over 130,000 trips and 40,000 282,927* miles (*Pronto corrected this number)
  • Served 3,200 annual members and nearly 25,000 casual users
  • Partnered with numerous local employers, residential buildings, hotels and affordable housing providers to offer incentives to encourage bike share use

Now, Pronto is poised for its next phase of growth that will expand access to more users and communities across the Puget Sound region. We’ve been working collaboratively with the City of Seattle to make steps toward our vision to weave bike share into the region’s public transportation network, and we’re pleased to have them take on a more prominent role in leading those efforts.

This is a natural progression for our program, and one that we believe best positions Pronto for a bright and vibrant future.

As such, next month I’ll be moving on from my role as Pronto’s executive director and taking on new challenges outside of the transportation sector. I am endlessly grateful to have had the privilege of working with, and learning from, so many passionate and inspiring individuals, and I want to thank each and every one of you for partnership over these past few years.

I will certainly  continue to cheer for bike share as one of our region’s most rapidly growing, equitable and sustainable transportation solutions, and look forward to watching the program’s growth and future success.Thanks, once again, for your enduring support and encouragement…and #GoPronto!

With gratitude,

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11 responses to “Houser stepping down as bike share Director”

  1. jay

    Somebody might want to double check those numbers, at the “40,000 miles” must at least be missing a zero.
    The 130,000 trips sounds sort of plausible, however that would put Pronto among the very worst performing PBS in the world at < 1 trip per bike per day. Even supposing the casual users only made one "trip" each, leaving 105,ooo for the 3,200 annual members, that is an average of less than one "trip" per week (or perhaps a round trip every other week) per annual user. As " transportation solutions" it looks like a failure to me. As a tourist attraction, maybe not so bad, but the expansion fantasy doesn't seem to me to be great fit with "tourist attraction".
    For contrast, in July of '12 & '13 the Fremont bridge counter counted nearly (but not quite) that many trips on just the one bridge in one month, granted that is a bit of a choke point, but still, just one location and one month! (The '15 Fremont numbers are not quite so high, looks like the bike fad is waning)

    1. Gary

      In part the low usage can be attributed to
      1) Lack of signage. Go ahead walk around the city, where are the bikes? Oh here’s one… there’s another… now ride from a to b and know that near where you are going is another rack to put your bike. It totally sucks if you don’t already know where they are.
      2) Lack of safe routes. Yes it’s not that dangerous, but you need to be able to ride in city traffic and that’s a skill that most people have never had a lesson in, other than the school of hard knocks. (also see #1, grab a bike and ride to…. OMG… how do I get off this arterial and get where I want to go.)
      3) Lack of enough stations. This is going to get fixed.
      4) Needs integration with the Orca card. One card to ride them all…. (a bus ride should include 1 free 30 minute bike ride as a transfer)

    2. Southeasterner

      Interesting observation on the Fremont bridge but I’m wondering about your conclusion that the “bike fad is waning.” From my own personal observations I think it may be the opposite in that there are too many bikes and peds on the sidewalks which is pushing more cyclists onto the bridge road lanes which aren’t captured by the counter. Just yesterday I probably saw 20 riders jump the sidewalk queue and take the road lane and risk the metal surface…not sure as many people will do this when we start to see more rain.

      Similar to the Burke Gilman where more and more cyclists are opting for parallel city streets to avoid congestion I think the main cycling routes in Seattle are starting to hit max capacity, especially during peak periods which is now being reflected in the counters. In addition I think quite a few cyclists commuting from West of the bridge, primarily the Ballard residents, are starting to opt for the Ballard Bridge and the Locks to avoid Burke Gilman and Fremont bridge congestion.

      1. Law Abider

        Trail congestion is manageable. Opting to ride across the Ballard Bridge and 15th during rush hour to avoid said trail congestion is next to insanity.

      2. jay

        That wasn’t really a “conclusion” it was more a “snark”.

        The counter is screwed up; it doesn’t count one of my bikes anymore (the bike that was nominally (give or take a huge margin of error) the millionth bike across last year) I don’t know if it is the 20″ front wheel or the long wheel base, but if there is one bike it doesn’t count there are probably others, also the bar graph at the bridge is reading about 100,000 less than the number on the web site.
        If one was paranoid, or subscribed to conspiracy theories, one might think “they” have deliberately adjusted the count too low to minimize the perception that bike might be a useful part of a transportation system.
        Back on topic, a paranoid conspiracy theorist might also imagine that Pronto was designed to fail to further discredit the idea that bicycles are anything other than toys.

        Of course that viewpoint is just crazy, even ignoring Hanlon’s razor, the city loves bicycles!, in fact they just put in new bright green protected bike lane on fifth!

        The pessimist might rebut with; the thing is only a block long and poorly connects with anything, so it will probably get little use, while being bright green it will stand out as a symbol of the insane amount of money spent (not to mention how most of the parking spaces in Seattle have been taken) for those scofflaw bikers who don’t even appreciate it, and instead insist on riding in the streets that really belong to cars.
        But one really shouldn’t listen to crazy people like that! (It’s a mystery to me why Monson and Rants even have jobs, not that they are exactly the same sort of crazy, but still)

        Surely you jest with: “and the Locks to avoid Burke Gilman and Fremont bridge congestion”.
        Not only does one have to walk through the locks grounds (I think it is a longer walk than walking across the Ballard bridge, albeit a much more pleasant walk, it is certainly far longer than walking the Fremont), at least on weekends, there are inevitably crowds of people loitering next to the “keep walkways clear” signs on the gates. If one wants congestion that is a good place to find it!

    3. Tom Fucoloro

      I just received an update from Pronto. Yes, the 40,000 miles number was waaay wrong. That actual number as of this week: 282,927.

      1. jay

        “waaay wrong”? that is considerably less that the missing zero I had assumed.
        In the last 10 months I’ve ridden about 4,000 miles, 3200 annual members have, in aggregate, only ridden 70 times as much as me? and each paid around $80 for the privilege? (close to a dollar a mile).
        I used to think that compared to say, the bus, the payback on my more expensive bikes (the most expensive ones bought from a couple of your advertisers BTW) would be more than my remaining lifetime, and they could only be justified by the fact that I like them, but at a dollar a mile, buying a bike (or two) a year is almost “reasonable” :) (though you should get some more advertisers so I have more choices ;)

        282,927 miles is in line with the 130,000 trips, and the length of a “typical” PBS ride. However, I saw a Pronto bike headed North in Interbay today, while they weren’t too far from the Key arena or pier 69 stations, they were headed away from them. They may have been headed to either the University or SLU, either one of which would be a good deal more than 2 miles (and also an overtime charge which Pronto desperately needs) The Pronto overtime charge is actually pretty reasonable, if, say, a tourist compares paying for a couple hours of Pronto overtime to taking a taxi to a real bike shop to spend $$ to rent a “real” bike, Pronto looks damn good, but as a “transportation solution” not so much.

  2. Mike Lindblom

    My hunch is that anybody intrepid enough to ride a bicycle in central Seattle is bringing a bike of their own. I see newcomers and tourists wobbling on Pronto bikes along the streets and sidewalks, but are they going to be repeat customers, when downtown buses are a safer substitute? The Pronto service territory, for the most part, is a miserable place to ride without local expertise. Maybe use will surge among the Sally Bagshaw-type “willing but wary” population if/when the city creates separated bike lanes, as we’re seeing at the wildly popular Mercer Street green lane under Aurora. Time will tell.

  3. Matthew Snyder

    Ouch, those system usage numbers are really low (and this was during a very favorable year, weather-wise). Usage figures need to be about four or fives times higher per bike, based on what’s worked in other cities, to make this a successful system. The planned e-bikes might help a bit, but my impression is that the next phase of growth depends heavily on whether the TIGER funding comes through. Is there a plan B for Pronto if the TIGER grant application is not funded?

  4. jay

    Ok, I officially don’t get it.

    Yesterday I saw a Pronto bike at Top Pot in Ballard, now that’s not really so strange, if someone really wants a doughnut, a $2 overtime charge to round trip from (presumably) the University is not bad at all.

    But, today I saw a woman with a Pronto bike waiting to get on the Bremerton ferry! WTF! that is over a 2 hour round trip just on the boat. Do anything on the other side besides turn around at get back on the same boat and she’d be looking at close to 4 hours minimum, for a casual user that would be over $40. There has got to be a point where a taxi is going to be more practical.
    I know I’ve said that for, say, a tourist, spending $20 to ride a Pronto bike 2 hours is a pretty good deal, particularly if “the journey is the destination”, but spending $20+ to park a bike on a ferry, not so much, and many of the tourist attractions (such as they are) are an easy walk from the ferry, I don’t see the need for a bike that, at that point, is costing $10 an hour.
    I wonder if she knows how the Pronto charges work? I wish I’d stopped to talk to her about it. I was worried that she’d be offended if it seemed I thought she didn’t know what she was doing, plus I assumed she did know, but upon reflection, what she was doing was so weird that both of those assumptions may have been wrong.

    There have been complaints about other PBS not making it entirely clear just how incredibly expensive that “24hour” pass can be if one takes the “24hours” literally without reading the fine print (which should not, of course, be “fine print” at all)

  5. […] the moment, the PSBS Board is still in charge. But as we reported in August, PSBS Executive Director Holly Houser has stepped down, leaving the organization unstaffed. […]

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