The hard deadline to save Pronto is March 30.
With more than 30,000 people taking 144,000 trips in the first year of operations, supporters and City Councilmembers are scratching their heads trying to figure out how Pronto got into such a dire situation with hardly any warning to the public.
Ridership in the first year was lower than projected, though many people involved are now questioning how realistic those projections were. A little over half of operating costs are paid by user fees, less than was planned. That’s a problem, sure, but likely not insurmountable through adjustments in station locations, expanded marketing, winning grants, growing sponsorships and/or city investment.
So here’s where the story gets very frustrating. How did a solvable problem turn into a do-or-die budget showdown in City Council chambers? The answer depends on who you ask.
SDOT staff, led by Chief of Active Transportation Nicole Freedman, blamed the budget gap on the amount of funding Puget Sound Bike Share (“PSBS,” the non-profit that owns Pronto) borrowed to launch the system, payments that now sap the budget.
“[Pronto’s operations] would break even today if it were city run and there were no debt payments,” said Freedman told us last week.
But former PSBS Executive Director Holly Houser disagrees with this characterization of the loan.
“They’re making it sound like we took out this huge loan, ” said Houser, who says it was actually a fairly standard loan against the sponsorship. So basically, if Alaska Airlines puts up $2.5 million over five years, you take out a loan to get the money up front, then use the subsequent sponsorship payments to pay off the loan.
The biggest cause of the showdown, Houser said, came from city delays and miscommunications in taking over the system that have left Pronto in a leadership (and revenue search) limbo.
“Our hands were essentially tied.”
The city came to the PSBS board in May 2015 — after just six rainy months of operation — with the takeover plan and a late summer date for the transition, she said (we reported about those plans in June). At that time, PSBS (whose board includes SDOT membership) gave the city their financials and explained that without more sponsorships and/or grants the system would run out of money by the end of the year. Basically, the lower ridership left budget holes that needed to be plugged.
But the takeover didn’t happen. And neither did new sponsorships or grants.
So now here we are. PSBS lost its staff and much of its board in late 2015, yet it still owns this system that’s about to run out of money. The price tag for the city to buy the system (including all the equipment, existing contracts with the operator Motivate and the future sponsorship income): $1.4 million.
Really, that’s a pretty good deal for an already functioning bike share system. It’s just a cost that the public didn’t learn about until now. Which is very frustrating not just to supporters, but also to City Councilmembers, who were clearly upset during Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting that the Council is in a position to act quickly to save it before it goes belly-up in March.
The rushed schedule means “we have to make a less-informed decision than we would like to make,” said Committee Chair Mike O’Brien (watch the meeting below). “It’s going to be critically important that second attempt get up,” or O’Brien fears the city will have “poisoned the well” on bike share for a while.
So while there are plenty of fingers to be pointed (including Seattle Bike Blog, since I feel I dropped the ball by not sniffing this story out sooner), where do we go from here?
On that, there is no disagreement: The city should buy the system and invest to expand it. Houser and PSBS have been in favor of this plan from the start, and the city’s goals with the system are laudable and bold.
Buying the system is really the only option that makes any sense. If the city doesn’t buy it and PSBS shuts down, the city will have to return up to $1.75 million in national, state and county grants, which carried the condition that the stations remain in operation.
Pronto is not sunk, and it’s not a failure. We know how to make it better, and we now have a more realistic idea of its user revenue. It’s a terrible idea to throw all that away after one struggle (especially a struggle caused as much by bureaucracy as by the system itself).
Now that the problems are public, we can get to work fixing them. We will explore many of these ideas in future posts. But for now, Seattle should buy Pronto and come up with their plan to make it the success we know it can be.
“I believe ultimately, we’re going to have one of the best bike share systems in the world here in Seattle,” said Councilmember O’Brien. The question is how we get there.
A (not so) brief history of Pronto
- August 2012 – Bike share business plan leads to the creation of a non-profit called Puget Sound Bike Share (“PSBS”).
- November 2012 – PSBS hires Holly Houser as Executive Director
- April 2013 – Alta Bicycle Share is selected to build and operate the system.
- September 2013 – City Council unanimously approves legislation to allow Pronto operations and stations.
- February 2014 – Newly-inaugurated Mayor Ed Murray announces a 2014 bike share launch in his first State of the City.
- April 2014 – Due to a messy bankruptcy for the maker of the most popular model of bike share equipment at the time, PSBS and Alta announce a different supply chain. Public outreach for station locations begins in earnest.
- May 2014 – The new name for the system is announced: Pronto! Emerald City Cycle Share (popular usage immediately drops the “!” and “Emerald City” parts of the name). Alaska Airlines is announced as the major sponsor for the first 500 bikes at $2.5 million over five years.
- July 2014 – We get our first look at the bike.
- August 2014 – Membership sales begin, eventually reaching 1,450 annual members sign up by the first week of operations at $85/year.
- September 2014 – Mayor Murray’s budget includes $600,000 in funding for low-income bike share access as well as Yesler Terrace and Central District stations. Those funds have not yet been spent.
- October 13, 2014 – Pronto launches with fanfare.
- October 28, 2014 – New York company later named Motivate buys Pronto operator Alta Bicycle Share.
- April 13, 2015 – Pronto turns six rainy months old. Without any summer months, ridership is only around a half a ride per bike per day.
- May 2015 – SDOT meets with PSBS board about buyout plan. Pronto puts locks on helmet bins, starts charging day pass users $2 per helmet rental.
- June 1, 2015 – Pronto launches the totally awesome #ProntoGlam bike, a single sparkly unicorn bike among the fleet celebrating Pride. The bike makes an appearance in the Solstice Naked Bike Ride.
- June 8, 2015 – City submits big Federal TIGER grant application to fund a “massive” expansion of Pronto from 50 to 250 stations, announces takeover plan.
- July 10, 2015 – State transportation package includes funding for bike share in Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond and Issaquah.
- August 27, 2015 – Houser steps down as ED of PSBS, which is pending sale to the city. She stayed on in a smaller contractor role to help with the transition.
- October 2015 – Mayor Murray announced $5 million Pronto expansion in his proposed budget. SDOT Director Scott Kubly talks with us about the takeover plan.
- October 13, 2015 – Pronto turns one year old. With very lagging U District stations dragging down the average, the system averages 0.8 rides per bike per day.
- October 27, 2015 – Feds announce that Seattle was not selected for the competitive TIGER grant.
- November 4, 2015 – Move Seattle passes, saving the transportation budget. SDOT Transit Division leader Paulo Nunes-Ueno, who was a leader in the plan to take over Pronto, resigns after less than a year on the job.
- November 17, 2015 – City Council approves the Mayor’s $5 million Pronto funds, but on the condition that SDOT present a plan to spend the funds first.
- January 29, 2016 – SDOT asks Council to release $1.4 million from the budgeted $5 million to save Pronto. Public learns about the system’s financial struggles.
- February 2, 2016 – SDOT presents to the City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee. Citing other Councilmembers’ desire for input, no vote was taken. SDOT will have to return with more information at the next Committee meeting in two weeks.
Watch the February 2 Sustainability and Transportation Committee meeting (Pronto presentation starts at 34:00):
97 responses to “Pronto needs city buyout before end of March, how did we get here?”
A few things come to mind to help boost revenue. Obviously that won’t make up for last year but it might help the projections for this year and on.
1. Eliminate the $8 all day pass and replace it with a $2 single ride pass, limited to 30 minutes.
2. Add a new $8 all day pass and change the 30 minute limit to 2 (or maybe 4) hours.
3. Reduce the operating costs by shifting fewer bikes from rack to rack. Let them go out of balance until the demand picks up and a more precise balance is needed.
My guess is that these rate changes would boost ridership dramatically. First, $8 is on the steep side for using a bike to go, say, from capitol hill to downtown. If all you need is one ride, you probably won’t do it. For $2, yes ! Better to have a few $2 rides than no $8 rides.
The other change – increase the check-out duration – would welcome users who want to ride someplace out of the rack areas. Say you want to ride to golden gardens for a picnic. If you are allowed 4 hours, you could easily do that – whether you are a tourist or just an occasional rider who wants to ride with a friend.
This structure wouldn’t have to be permanent – as demand increases and usage changes, so can the pricing structure.
Even better, make it an ORCA transfer. $2 (or so) to rent a bike for 30 mins, plus the standard 2 hour bus transfer. Or your 2 hour bus fare allows you to rent a bike for 30 mins..
ORCA integration: yes.
ORCA transfer: no. Then we’re splitting funds from two completely different agencies (Metro and Pronto) that already suffer from lack of funding.
Seattle can make up the lost fare by paying out to Metro. Either Pronto is not highly used, in which case Seattle’s payments will be a tiny blip. Or, Pronto usage explodes, in which case it’s a net positive for the city to be heavily subsidizing it.
It would take some programming and adjustment, but why not hit multiple birds with the same stone…
Make base check-outs 60-90 minutes at downhill stations, keep the 30 minutes at hilltop stations. People who want longer rides will balance the system for you.
Yes, let’s definitely incentivize rebalancing in the payment structure. I don’t know what that would actually look like, but I could certainly imagine various possibilities.
BTW, NYC’s bike share time limit is different whether you’re an annual member or not. Annual members get a 45 min limit instead of 30 mins.
Why do so many in the Seattle bike community think we need Pronto? Is it because they have bike sharing envy? We want to be like other cities with bike share programs? Why must we be a follower and not a leader when it comes to cycling?
Seattle is unique and has its own unique challenges for cyclists. Lousy weather much of the year, traffic, long steep hills, urban sprawl. Cyclists in Seattle must be committed. They need bikes with gearing for the hills and panniers to carry multiple layers of clothing for wet and dry cycling. Most other cities, because of their weather or geography, don’t demand this level of commitment from cyclists. Cycling can be more of a spur of the moment decision.
Sure the Seattle bike community will tell you these challenges are all surmountable – and for many, they are. For the committed certainly, but not everyone. Hence the lack of broad based use of Pronto.
More than any other place, Seattle’s bike community has taken a macho approach to cycling. Perhaps the macho approach began due to the difficulty of the challenge Seattle’s cyclists faced? Who knows, but it does not need to be this way forever. Seattle cyclists can become born again. It is possible that Seattleites become leaders in acquiring creative solutions to our unique challenges. We can set aside our copy-cat ways.
I’m an avid cyclist with more than 35 years riding as an adult on Seattle’s streets. I live in West Seattle and ride my bike at least five days a week all year long.
That said, I am AGAINST the city taking over Pronto and spending more money on this failed bike share program. I hope the city does not throw good money after bad trying to take over the Pronto bike share program and expand it. I do not believe expanding Pronto will make it work. Instead, it will just become more expensive and waste more scarce bicycle dollars.
Instead, I hope Seattle pursues more important bike-related improvements such as:
– Bike Corrals
– MAINTENANCE of bike pavement markings such as sharrows
– Bicycle push buttons at the curb at traffic lights
– Bike shoulders
– Bike education (for drivers and cyclists)
These types of bike investments make more of a difference than Pronto has or will.
Augsburg, I strongly disagree. Seattle does have crappy winter weather, but so does Minneapolis, which has a very successful bikeshare system: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/07/this-really-might-be-the-nicest-bike-share-system-in-the-united-states/373679/. Same with DC. Riders across the country need “special gear” in the winter, even if ours includes more goretex, but that doesn’t mean bike share bikes need panniers.
Bike corrals, sharrows, push buttons, and bike education will have absolutely no impact on how much I ride. I don’t even know what a bike shoulder is. And if you think about, a bike corral isn’t very different from a bike share station. You’ll still need to have hundreds across the city to get a network effect.
Seattle is not some unicorn that has different rules for cyclists. The principles are the same across the country – once you have enough stations to provide a network effect, the system will succeed.
I’ll agree with both of you. We should all be weary of the increasing chance that the millions of dollars for bike infrastructure that was just passed in MOVE Seattle will be siphoned off into a mismanaged bike share system but at the same time it makes no sense that a bike share system can’t work in Seattle, and part of that success will be contingent on building decent bike infrastructure and putting in place the right management.
Based on the questionable financial terms, roll-out date of the system, and location of PRONTO racks it does make you wonder if the right people are in charge…or if they will continue to make bad decisions. Would love to see the city bring in someone from Barcelona or Kubly use his connections and grab someone from Citi Bike or Divvy.
“Bike corrals, sharrows, push buttons, and bike education will have absolutely no impact on how much I ride.”
Pronto will have absolutely no impact on how much I ride.
“Seattle is unique and has its own unique challenges for cyclists. Lousy weather much of the year, traffic, long steep hills, urban sprawl”
Have you ever set foot outside of Seattle?? Seattle does not have “lousy” weather compared to most of the country, every city has traffic and the sprawl in minimal compared to other cities. The only thing that is unique is the hills.
I agree. Besides San Francisco, I can’t think of a city that is as challenging because of the hills. You see the difference in the cyclists–they’re fast! I moved here fresh off a bike tour, and
I’m getting passed a lot. Other places, not so much.
The one thing Seattle isn’t (I may be very wrong, that’s just my experience these last three weeks) is windy. Yes, there have been a few gusts, but not too bad overall. I hope it doesn’t change, because I’ll take hills and rain before a stiff wind every time.
Hills are not unique to Seattle, San Francisco has a bike share, albeit in a what seem to be a fairly small area. Seattle’s elephant is not even unique, though Australia’s bike shares seem to be generally considered a failure. Interestingly, Melbourne was trying to sell it’s publicly financed program to a private owner (got no takers, because a requirement was it be self-supporting)
It’s not my intention reignite the elephant war, but still, I’m going to take this opportunity to promote my idea: If helmets were required for pedestrians (including drivers going to from their parking spaces) then people would already have a helmet with them if the wanted to ride a bike share bike. For example; if one had to park 2 miles from their destination because all the parking was taken for bike lanes. Plus it would save lives http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2015/01/30/no-charges-for-person-who-killed-man-walking-his-dog-in-a-kirkland-crosswalk/ that was a relatively slow speed collision and one obituary I read said head injury. Would also reduce some devastating injuries, little Zeytuna spent a month or more in the hospital http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2014/10/27/saturday-join-mayor-murray-on-a-vigil-walk-for-7-year-old-struck-on-mlk/
Of course that idea has as much chance as a repeal of the bike helmet rule, but if submitted in that sequence at least some of the bike haters would be confronted with their hypocrisy.
BTW, while I recognize the impossibility of my idea. it is none the less serious. I do wear a helmet while riding, and I also have one of those anecdotes where my head hit a hard object but I didn’t spend a month in hospital.
@Augsburg. Lots of great points. The “flat” distance across the center of London is about the same distance as from the U District to downtown.
Not sure if “Seattle is unique” but it stands out as having amazingly incompetent managers running most public or publicly funded enterprises. Why should we believe for one minute that the city can make a go of this?
Pronto is such a waste of valuable money and resources. The biggest promoters sound just defense department types, I swear I can’t tell the difference.
This blog has done an enormously great job of showing why Pronto sucks, the best reason to say no is to read the myriad of comments from subsribers/users as to how and why it sucks for all the normal reasons we discussed before it even opened, and to see this was so easily avoidable.
But why do that, just take the blog’s OP word/opinion and let the City blow all your cash so he and the other posters can feel good about wasting YOUR money. This has to be the one of the dumbest projects that the City has pushed and worse it has a few members who actually buy the marketing garbage and then spew it out the back door, ugh.
SDOT has not yet replaced Paulo, meaning that their Transit Division has had no director for the past 3 months. In a city where the largest mode share of people commuting downtown is transit (45% of commuters as of 2014).
I really hope there’s some strong leadership regarding transit happening in the background…
This kind of adds to the question of Kubly’s real qualifications. He served as acting president of Alta just before it was about to fold and had to be rescued by Motivate and now we are seeing all kinds of financial and management mistakes between Pronto and the City and a disastrous transition-hand over. You would think that if anyone could get this right it would be someone who has worked on both sides.
Not saying that he can’t learn from his mistakes but the miscommunication on the Pronto financing leaves much to be desired and is a black eye for bicycle advocates…starts to make me wonder what he will actually accomplish with MOVE Seattle money.
I fear that Kubly @ SDOT = Marissa Mayer @ Yahoo.
Hopefully his track record will prove otherwise.
That’s pretty harsh. SDOT had retention problems for a long time before Kubly came on board. Constantly getting yelled at all the time by people at open houses has to take its toll on employees.
I don’t know the circumstances behind Paulo leaving, but I do know that SOMEONE needs to be driving transit decisions with a big-picture view rather than random decisions being made by various project managers..
not sure, Andres, if you’re referring to me or Southeasterner — but I think the Marissa Mayer analogy is painfully accurate so far.
Both came in with a ton of hype, and with experience at top-tier places. Marissa Meyer appears to have just been lucky to have been at the right place at the right time as an early Googler. She’s certainly failed to deliver the goods on her own as a leader in her new role at Yahoo.
Kubly came in with a lot of hype around bike share expertise, tactical urbanism, and so forth — but none of these alleged skills have shown yet in any tangible way on our streets. Seattle is not visibly better for his having replaced Peter Hahn.
I’m hoping for the best and am very eager to change my mind, but I see no proof to believe otherwise…yet.
Andres – I actually don’t think Kubly has been that bad for transit and he has already done some great things in coordination with King County on Metro and funding. It’s the bike thing that has me baffled as he should be an expert on this stuff given his experience but we seem to be heading in the wrong direction.
“I really hope there’s some strong leadership regarding transit happening in the background…”
Bill Bryant. Dude’s a badass.
Thanks for the article and timeline. Don’t kick yourself for missing the news story (no ED, city bureaucracy confusion, makes it tough to know what went on).
Well, at this point I think we need to optimize the current system and efficiently spend the $3.6m remaining dedicated funds, not only to expand, but to figure out what sorts of subsidy will be needed in future years. I assume other bike share systems require subsidy?
One of the new Sound Transit double decker buses cost $680,000. So I say we measure the annual subsidy in new bus costs. We need 2.1 buses to buy the existing system and maybe one bus a year to keep it running?
I bike past two stations commuting to downtown Eastlake and Allison and Blakely and 24th. They appear to be bridge stations from downtown to the U district and Children’s Hospital. They seem to not be used much. Might be better to move stations more frequently based on housing density and commercial activity. There must be some sort of optimizing algorithm?
Thanks. I do kick myself because I really should have picked up on the PSBS exodus in the fall. I wrote about Holly leaving, but I didn’t dig deeper. If I had uncovered some of this then, we might be in a different situation today. This whole thing needed sunlight, and that’s supposed to be my job. Lesson learned.
While they could do it, I doubt the Public Health Board will repeal the adult helmet rule in time for this buyout, so I have serious doubts that ridership will turn around any time soon, or that Pronto will get out from under the ongoing cost of helmet distribution, collection, cleaning, replacement, etc.
BikePortland has a good piece asking whether Pronto’s problems would affect the new Portland bikeshare system, and their graph of bikeshare usage around the world shows only two other systems as flatlined as Seattle — both in better climates for cycling, both in flatter cities than Seattle, but both in jurisdictions with mandatory helmet laws to inconvenience users and convince the public that bicycling is unreasonably hazardous.
I don’t intend to restart the helmet-law thread again here, I think the data are abundantly clear on that issue, but I do wonder whether Pronto is a good investment of Seattle’s money if the Health Department continues to strongly promote sedentary transportation.
As much as a bike share program sounds like a fun idea, I have always had a difficult time envisioning a scenario where it is successful. I could very easily be wrong, but it seems like Pronto’s ridership pulls from an absolutely miniscule pool of people who appear to be tourists that are willing to ride a bike in an unfamiliar city. And given Seattle weather, most tourists are not simply going to throw on some rain gear and tough it out. Is this casual observation inaccurate? You also can’t use them to visit local shops/cafes/restaurants/etc. due to most riders not carrying a lock. So unless they are deeply integrated into the bus network, I just don’t see Pronto ever being a legitimate form of urban transportation.
Unlike many others, I do not think the helmet law is a significant barrier to participation. People either wear the helmet, drape it over the handlebar, or leave it in the bin. But with enforcement being virtually nonexistent, I highly doubt anyone is fearful of receiving a citation for not wearing a helmet.
Enforcement happens. And my wife has bused instead of biking in the past due to the fear of receiving a helmet citation.
Okay, enforcement happens, but *rarely*. The majority of helmet infractions are issued by a single SPD officer. I don’t know what SPD has done to strike fear into would-be cyclists who fear the extremely unlikely possibility of getting a ticket for not wearing a helmet. But if you give up cycling altogether because you refuse to wear a helmet and have a unrealistic fear of receiving a ticket, it seems you’re just hunting for excuses not to ride at that point.
Helmet enforcement is THE highest bike specific citation that SPD makes. What makes you think that it’s rare? See my comment here:
And as I’ve said before, it’s not just law enforcement – it’s the culture around it. Try riding without a helmet on the Burke, and watch how many people go out of their way to tell you to wear a helmet. Take your kid on the Burke without a helmet (in an infant seat, in a bakfiet!) and people STILL tell you that he needs a helmet – despite no one selling helmets for heads that small. This doesn’t happen in other cities that I’ve lived where there are no helmet laws.
And then you spot a cop, and you hope that they don’t stop you. We’re not making this stuff up – the helmet law IS a problem, and it DOES keep people from biking. Various studies and data correlate helmet laws with lower rates of biking all over the world.
What’s wrong with having a helmet culture? Think of the many lives saved and injuries avoided by having a helmet culture. It’s a little thin-skinned to complain about people pointing out that you should be wearing a helmet when you choose to go helmetless for whatever reason. It’s certainly not a reason to repeal the helmet law. If there are studies that say there is a causal link between adult helmet laws and significantly lower bike usage, I wonder how they could actually prove this. What’s the alternative to a helmet law? Massive expensive publicity campaigns encouraging people to wear a helmet? Kids learn by example so adult helmet use has value in setting that example and defining “normal”. The combination of speed and exposure on a bicycle makes helmet use when biking more critical than it is for people walking and driving, especially in Seattle where there are many downhill routes..
The main problems with a “helmet culture” are:
1. It reinforces a false belief that bicycles are a uniquely hazardous way to travel. That’s a significant deterrent to many people who might otherwise consider bicycles for short trips.
2. It increases the barriers to entry for novice users, and the time penalty for each trip.
There’s a good reason European public health officials have chosen to promote a culture of bicycling instead of a culture of helmets — decades of peer-reviewed public health research prove bicycling, without a helmet, is safer than not bicycling at all.
Biking just 25 miles a week correlates with a 50% lower rate of heart disease, lower rates of depression, diabetes, and other complications of a sedentary lifestyle; overall, a 40% lower risk of premature death.
It’s not that they think helmets are harmful or ineffective, but that they may get in the way of a much more important safety choice, getting on a bike in the first place.
Alkibkr wrote: “What’s wrong with having a helmet culture? Think of the many lives saved and injuries avoided by having a helmet culture. ”
But so many more could be saved if we really had a “helmet culture” and not just discrimination against bicyclists, see my post above ( http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2016/02/04/pronto-needs-city-buyout-before-end-of-march-how-did-we-get-here/#comment-670471 )
Once, during one of these helmet debates I went looking for unlikely ways to die, turns out bicycling is more likely to kill you than shark attacks or lighting, but I found one reference to a study that found in one place in England, falls on stairs had a higher fatality rate than bicycling. Requiring helmets in/on private property might be a bit much, but if we really care about safety then requiring them on public property seems reasonable. Also while searching on that topic, I found one blogger (don’t remember where) that said he used to not wear a helmet just to be a rebel, but then his mother fell on stairs leaving a restaurant and “is not the person she used to be” so now the rebel wears a helmet while riding.
As I said before, if you already have your own helmet with you, there will be no problem using a PBS bike, plus the PBS operator won’t have to provide helmets.
It might also help drivers be more aware of how vulnerable other users are when the driver has to wear a helmet going to/from their parking space. Plus, if private property is excluded, then people who park their cars in their own driveway and go to parking structures attached to their destination would not have to bother with a helmet, possibly reducing the demand for on street parking , and thus reducing the outrage when parking is taken for bike lanes, lanes which in turn may get more use since everybody is wearing a helmet anyway, so there is not that disincentive to ride a bike (possibly a PBS one, to stay close to the topic)
People who haven’t used Pronto think of it as a tourist gimmick or a “fun idea”. People who have used Pronto can see the value of it as a public transportation option that is not stuck in traffic, not subject to waiting around for a bus transfer, not interupted because of an accident on the rails (Link), and does not require a heavy investment in purchase, storage and maintenance of a bike, lights, bell. Expansion should be immediate and station placement should be based on connecting popular destinations, BRT and light rail stops, and snaking out into neighborhoods within 5-6 miles range of city center, placed at distances easily rideable in 30 minutes.
And lock. I forgot the lock. No lock to buy, lug around and fiddle with. And no fear that someone will steal it.
I think most people who get to the point of realizing that cycling is a viable form of urban transportation would rather invest in their own equipment, which really opens up a lot of doors regarding how a bike can be used in the city. Being limited by the Pronto station locations, not being able to lock it up at locations other than a Pronto station, and having to deal with a heavy bike with predetermined cargo options is, I would imagine, a big hindrance to Pronto’s quest for broad appeal. Investing in your own bike and equipment is actually very cheap when you consider all the money that is saved not paying for buses fare, gas, insurance, auto maintenance, etc.
eing limited by the Pronto station locations…
That’s an explanation for the failure of Pronto, not for any inherent deficiency of bike-share.
Where coverage area and station placement do not feel like shackles, bike-share succeeds. It succeeds wildly. It earns sustaining buy-in from a breadth of users and it weaves itself into the urban fabric to the point where its a wonder people ever lived without it.
Seattle’s bike-share failure has been the predictable exception (based on the organization’s rampant incompetence, on display years before lunch) proving the rule.
Elephant in the room: People don’t like riding them because of the helmet law. Sorry! I know the cycling community has fallen in lock step on the necessity of a required-helmet law, but for a quick trip down the street, nobody wants to wear a shared, dorky helmet. It is a MAJOR barrier that other cities don’t have to deal with.
Seattle cyclists should begin to push for elimination of our helmet law.
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Pronto launched into an unusually terrible cycling environment in late 2014. On top of the hill and helmet-related challenges, its first few years have seen extreme construction impacts throughout the service area. If only it had been financially robust enough to make it through just a few predictably lean years it could have seen real conditions for growth: the end of major 99 and waterfront construction impacts, more ped/bike-friendly finished infrastructure in those areas, U Link opening (!!!), tons of new buildings filling up in SLU and the Denny Triangle, a basic downtown bike network.
Without that financial robustness, they should have just waited. With a 2018 opening the same thing might have happened, but the chances would have been substantially better.
So Holly Houser complains about city delays, says their hands were tied. Welcome to the Seattle bike community! We were supposed to have downtown cycletrack corridors chosen in 2015, with construction starting this year. We’re sure not getting that — maybe it would be closer if the council and relevant city departments weren’t distracted by cleaning up Pronto’s mess. The only thing Pronto’s hands were tied by was its own bad planning and timing.
There’s ALWAYS an excuse to wait. I think waiting until spring may have been wise, sure. But if those downtown bike lanes had come in last year as planned, we might be seeing a whole different level of usage. And that’s the thing, Pronto makes those downtown bike lanes so much more useful because anyone downtown can try them out without bringing their own bikes all the way from wherever in the region they live. But we haven’t opened an inch of new protected bike lane downtown since Pronto opened (unless you count the less-than-stellar Dexter bike lanes in SLU full of construction closures).
I didn’t mean that to come off as such a disagreement, Al. I’m just frustrated by this whole thing.
(TBH, I’m kind of sick of ragging on Pronto, but everything that comes out of it makes me pretty pissed off. Pronto leaders complaining about city delays? Seriously? The only time scale against which the city delays really appear interminable is the 9 months the system made it before the need for bailout was so obvious the city had to develop its first takeover plan. Oh, right, and that time scale really should make people suspicious about the intentions of everyone involved with the program. Hanlon’s Razor says something about attributions of malice and stupidity, but maybe it doesn’t matter — Washington tax structures don’t leave much room for either.)
(There are actually positive things happening around here! Mountlake Terrace opened a path to get people from their new transit center to the Interurban Trail a few months ago! The stretch of North Road near Lynnwood High where some horse-trailer-towing-sub-human-oilspot ran me into a ditch a few years ago has bike lanes now! If the City of Seattle thinks it can make bike-share a positive thing, go for it, but let’s not pretend Pronto deserves anything vis-a-vis having earned it! There are some sweet dirt and gravel trails to run on in the West Duwamish Greenbelt! The Cross-Kirkland Corridor interim trail was really well executed! South SeaTac Park is pretty fun for a wasteland until WSDOT probably kills it in a few years! The Ravenna and Rainier PBLs and the bridge on 15th Ave NE work pretty well! The Westlake Cycletrack is happening pretty soon, and so is a decent bike route through the Arboretum, I think! There’s no time for this BS, supposedly they extended the North Creek Trail in Bothell another few feet…)
You have addressed the fundamental problem with Pronto’s first year of operation. Too bad no one saw this coming. ;-)
Houser needs to be introduced on first mention. Currently last name only, no title, no context.
Fixed. Thanks. Must have edited it out on accident.
“Pronto is not sunk, and it’s not a failure. We know how to make it better, and we now have a more realistic idea of its user revenue.”
I don’t believe there is unanimous agreement on “how to make it better”. It would be great if you could be much more specific in your suggestions. I have tried to do just that in my past suggestions.
And the “it’s not a failure” comment begs the question: “By what measure?”.
Most people in business measure success by profit. By this measure, Pronto is a failure. Many in the bikeshare community measure success in rides/bike/day. By this measure Pronto is at a minimum decidedly sub-standard.
I will once again suggest some goals and and associated metrics for measuring success:
Goal #1) Improve accessibility of high capacity transit with stations at and near light rail and BRT.
Metric #1) visits/station/day measured at Pronto stations co-located with light rail and BRT stations. (Threshold of success = 50 visits/day.)
Goal #2) Support non-vehicular tourism with stations along Myrtle Edwards, the Burke Gilman (UW-Fremont-Ballard), and at Alki and Greenlake.
Metric #2) Individual stations in these areas will have an effectiveness metric determined by: A*sponsorship + B*annualRiders + C*shortTermRiders – D*rebalancingEffort. (Threshold of success = be in top 1/3 of all stations during Apr-Sep.)
There you go. Clear goals. Precise, well defined metrics to measure success or failure.
Others may disagree with these goals but please, whatever you think bikeshare is for, lets get specific about both goals and metrics for success rather than just bandying about vague statements like “It’s not a failure.” and “We know how to make it better.”
Agreed that there should be goals and metrics but it is rather an artificial exercise when there already infrastructure on the ground.
“Goal #1) Improve accessibility of high capacity transit with stations at and near light rail and BRT.”
In a month light rail will open at Husky stadium which is I believe its first station (outside downtown has hill challanges) where there are bike friendly routes (mostly uphill in the morning) on the UW campus that might attract daily commuter usage. As for BRT, one of the great things about the bus routes in Seattle is that they largely get people where they need to go so there is no last mile problem to solve.
“Goal #2) Support non-vehicular tourism with stations along Myrtle Edwards, the Burke Gilman (UW-Fremont-Ballard), and at Alki and Greenlake.”
Bike share is meant to be part of the transportation infrastructure, not an alternative to ride the ducks. You can rent a bike at Alki and Greenlake so why should the city compete with those businesses and what tourist would want to ride the missing link of the Burke Gilman to Ballard?
It’s too bad there’s no bikeshare station at the light rail station…
There’s a bikeshare station directly across the street from the station. That street is Montlake, which I realize isn’t easy to cross. It would certainly be better if the bikeshare station were right on top of the station, but can we retire the meme that it’s impossible to use bikeshare to get to the train? It’s like a 2 minute walk.
@kptrease Describing it as “directly across the street” is a bit of misrepresentation. It is most of the way to the intersection of NE Pacific St. and NE Pacific Place and a visitor would not find it without a map (it is not visible from the station). We have just built an extravagant bike friendly overpass to access the light rail station and then stick the bike share 200 yards away. This is fatuous – I am pretty sure that such ineptness is unique to Seattle – every other city I have visited with successful bike share has them right next to the transit stations.
Word is that they are working on moving a dock closer to UW station by opening. Where exactly is still undetermined.
I hope someone’s doing a study of transfers to/from the Cap Hill station vs. transfers to the ULink station. Cap Hill should benefit more. Being part of a minuscule 10 dock network may trump being near the Burke-Gilman and Link. After expansion the UW network should be far more effective for getting people to ULink.
“As for BRT, one of the great things about the bus routes in Seattle is that they largely get people where they need to go so there is no last mile problem to solve.”
Maybe this is true in your neighborhood, but you may not be aware that there are many neighborhoods in Seattle with commercial centers that are underserved by public transportation unless you are traveling during peak hours in the commute direction on a weekday. That doesn’t help those who have non standard work schedules or need to travel on weekends. They need better ways to get to the widely spaced BRT and Link stations.
“You can rent a bike at Alki”
Bike rentals on Alki are seasonal and expensive. And not everyone in Alki is a tourist, some of us live here. On Sundays Alki Point has bus service once per hour along the Admiral Way corridor, and during the winter, no service off peak and on weekends along Beach Drive and Alki Ave/Harbor Avenue. Yet it would be easy to bike from the Point to the last RR stop in West Seattle on Avalon, probably within 1/2 hour (3.9 miles and 19 minutes according to Google Maps).
“Word is that they are working on moving a dock closer to UW station by opening. Where exactly is still undetermined.”
If we are serious about bike share shouldn’t the location of the bikes been part of the station design? It’s not like this station has a particularly crowded footprint.
I would add this most common and easily translatable metric for bike share:
rides per bike per day. It easily gives you a sense of how often the bikes are being used. That is the main goal, right?
Some of the cities from this report on bike share planning (link on this page: https://www.itdp.org/the-bike-share-planning-guide-2/)
Mexico City 5.5
Seattle is at 0.8
So, when you think about goal cities, do not go looking at Minneapolis, but look at Montreal, which has some tough winter, but few hills.
Every one of those cities has more stations than we do. Seattle’s numbers will increase the more stations we have, and the more established our system becomes. Calling the system a failure would be short-sighted.
Our low trips per bike to date is based on the fact that the stations are not numerous enough nor are many of them highly visible from public transportation or conveniently located for popular destinations. No comparison to those other systems.
Barcelona’s system, interestingly, is not available to tourists. If you want to bike in Barcelona, you have to rent a bike from a cycle rental place. You need a local address to access its bike share.
Where will the funding come from to buy out and subsidize Pronto?
What gets done with that funding if it isn’t used for bike share?
Which is better: bike lanes or a connected network of bike lanes? Will a network that is twice as big get only twice as many riders or more? Bike share thrives on a similar principle.
The understanding of dock density and network size has vastly increased in just the last few years as the driving factor of bike share usage. Splitting an already small network into two even smaller networks really hurt the ridership numbers compared to the size of the network. Take away the disconnected UW docks and the remaining 40 docks are performing about as well as any other 40 dock network in a US city. Add 50 docks (as this expansion will), and we should get pretty decent ridership.
By contrast San Francisco has 70 docks and recently announced an expansion to 700. Do hills, rain (snow even?), traffic, bike infrastructure, etc. have effects? Sure, but the number of docks trumps that (page 2):
As far as fare models go, bike share is not bike rental. I see so many complaints and suggestions based on the single-day-pass fare when the yearly subscription and 30-minute limit is really built in to the design of a bike share program. There are important innovations in bike share fare. LA’s new program has a slightly lower day pass and a monthly payment option, which both address common complaints, but it’s still fundamentally bike share, intended for short on-demand “walk-extending” rides.
This is now sounding like a distressed sale, so maybe it should be priced as such (if the city buys it at all) rather than paying the full price shown on PSBS’s “price tag”? The city could negotiate with the lenders and see if they will write down some of the debt (the alternative being that the city walks away and lenders get nothing but some used bikes).
Can’t we just dispose of all the bikes in the big hole behind Bertha
So, according to the financial info I managed to dig up on Pronto, operating costs are about $1.5M/yr to run a system with 500 bikes. That’s $3K/bike/year. Also looks like there were roughly 140K trips in the first year and if, optimistically, each trip was about 3 miles, that means it costs $3/mile to run this bike share system. By comparison, a car costs about $.50 and a bus around $1 per passenger mile. Any explanations on why Pronto is so expensive to run? And why the city should bail out this overpriced/underused system?
Because based on the city’s size and progressive politics, we must have a bike share system – we can always figure out why we need it later!
If you want some truly appalling numbers, it cost me about $10/hour to use Pronto over 80 rides this year.
I rode 8 hours total on my $85 membership. Those rides were mostly 10 minutes and less than a mile. Each ride saved me a 20 minute walk or a 30+ minute wait for a bus transfer or a 30-minute slog on a local bus.
Some numbers are counterintuitive with bike share, but I expect scaling up the number of bikes will help the $/mile. Ridership and ad revenue scale faster than overhead.
Still, cheaper than a regular bike rental. And available all year on demand when you need it 24/7. Many bike rental businesses don’t operate in the winter. In season they usually close at night.
Did you include parking and idling in traffic jams in your car operation figure? The heavy toll on infrastructure caused by heavy motorized vehicles that we must pay for with our taxes (hint: bikes didn’t cause those potholes)? Using a car to get around Seattle is going to become more and more problematic (like a millstone around your neck) as our population grows if we don’t come up with some viable options fast for getting around the city. And as for the bus: farebox recovery is somewhere under 30% while for Pronto it’s supposedly around 50%.
Here’s another way of looking at it: 140K trips over a year works out to about 400 people using Pronto per day. There are about 225K commuters per day to downtown Seattle. I’ll assume that all the Pronto users were commuters. That results in a whopping 0.2% of commuters using the service. Even if there were a 10x improvement in use, that would still mean 98% of people would continue using cars/buses/walking to commute. So all the infrastructure problems would remain (BTW, it’s trucks that cause the most damage to pavement, not cars), and the city would, yet again, be wasting money on a useless service.
This reminds me the $5M public toilet fiasco a few years back.
@ Fred Rogers You’re right, trucks do cause much more damage, but the thing is, once there is a pothole, I believe cars damage it more. This is because a) their tires are smaller, so when they strike one, they don’t roll over it, b) cars tend to have higher speeds on average, c) there’s a lot more cars on the road.
Interesting use of statistics. It would be more appropriate to look at the percentage of people in Pronto’s footprint than the region entirely, because Pronto serves only its footprint. Or we could compare it to the number of commuters who use North Sounder compared to the cost of North Sounder.
There should be 2 basic and obvious goals of Pronto and the station placement should be in alignment.
1) Tourist–This should be the easy part. Assume that most tourists are going to be staying downtown without a car. Where would they want to ride? Chances are they are not going to rent a bike to go from the Market to Pioneer Square or even Capitol Hill when they can easily walk or take light rail. Chances are they are going to want to bike along Elliott Bay. Obviously, there are some challenges here with the Viaduct and seawall construction but this should become a very popular bike route for tourists. There should also be accommodations to bike to Alki Beach, whether it’s a complete bike ride or from the water taxi. There also needs to be accommodations from the Elliott Bay Trail to the Locks and Golden Gardens. Needless to say, I think biking along the Burke Gilman trail would also attract some tourists along with just about everyone else in the city.
2) Transit–Pronto needs to be part of our public transit system PERIOD. Bike share is not meant to prevent people from purchasing their own bikes or to use in place of their current bike. I would imagine Seattle has one of the highest rates of bike ownership per capita in this country. I would also suspect that Seattle has the highest amount of pent-up demand for public transit in this country. I can’t think of another city as dense that is so poorly covered by public transit. The city needs to look at every Rapid Ride Bus Line and Light Rail Line and identify areas that are between 1/2 mile-2 miles from the nearest station. These are transit black holes. Areas where people are just a little too inconvenienced to use Public Transit because of the long walk and the poor reliability of the local bus networks. I have said this many times on here but as a resident of Magnolia/Interbay, I would use the Rapid D line several days a week but my 1.5 mile walk just takes too long and I refuse to take my bike on the bus or lock it up at the station. There has to be countless other individuals like me in this city…
In closing, Pronto needs to more clearly identify its goals and advertise them, especially, the public transit piece. This system would be a win-win as a bike share program and for our public transit if it was primarily used as a funnel into our major transit lines.
+++++ I couldn’t agree more.
Designing bike share for the tourists trivializes it. Why the heck should my tax dollars subsidize tourists who are only here if they can fork out $200/night for a hotel?
Yes, bike share should be designed as part of public transit but only if is needed. What is the need and is that need best satisfied by bike share? Instead we are stuck with a bike share and we have to figure out if there is a need after the fact.
In the first year of Pronto, I probably was able to catch up to my bus that I would not have been able to take (with a minimum 30 minute wait for the next one) a couple dozen times by biking past the bus on Pronto. That’s one of the things it’s supposed to be for. Biking past stopped traffic on Dexter and catching up to transit stuck in that traffic.
William, developed bikeshare systems have seen that tourists are actually one of their biggest sources of revenue, and they make more from the tourists than the spend on them. The $8 day passes everyone complains about are designed for tourists, and they actually subsidize the local, annual riders – not the other way around. The Pronto station by the Sculpture Park, for example, is very popular. Adding a few more “tourist” stations by places like the Space Needle is a great way to bring in revenue to pay for commuter spots.
@Dave F, If you look at the figures you will see that bike shares loose money everywhere because they receive substantial subsidies in various forms. The problem with Pronto is that even with all those subsidies, it is loosing money. I am happy to subsidize public transport but would prefer that it be an efficient system focused on the needs of people who live here. I am less keen on subsidizing tourists.
If you could make money renting a bike for $8/day (remember Pronto usage is so low – each bike is ridden <1x per day or about 1x per day if you exclude the U district – they might as well let a tourist keep it all day) then commercial outfits would be doing so.
I acknowledge that bikeshare systems will require investment from the public, just like buses, bike lanes, or any other form of transportation (including roads). If you oppose public financing for any bikeshare system, no matter how successful, I won’t convince you otherwise. My point is simply that Seattle’s system can be just as successful as the systems in any other city if we are willing to make a similar investment in the infrastructure it requires.
And, of course, that infrastructure includes more and better biker lanes. But this is not a zero-sum game, as we have enough money for bike lanes and bike share if we simply have city officials with the political will to make it happen.
Like all of you, I think we should operate our system as efficiently as possible. Adding 5-6 stations that focus on tourists will subsidize the other 95% of the stations, focusing on Seattle residents, cheaper to operate.
And bikeshare systems create new riders, who become advocates for new infrastructure, which helps make Seattle a more bike-friendly city.
All the news of late makes me feel that I am an anomaly as an enthusiastic Pronto user. I really hope Pronto doesn’t go away. For whatever it might be worth, here are my circumstances & user experience:
Ease of transit was a significant choice for me to buy a condo in Belltown. I’m an avid cyclist who owns bikes of my own, but I LOVE Pronto for commuting and errands.
I don’t have to worry about my own bikes or accessories being stolen.
I can bike one way and take a different mode of transit back.
During rush hour, using a combo of Pronto and walking is the fastest and most satisfying/fun way to get around.
I don’t wear a helmet while using Pronto bikes and have never been stopped by police.
Are the bikes ideal? No. Are they clunky? Yes. But the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
I really wish there were stations in Fremont and Ballard and Sodo.
I’m not sure what the answers to the current situation. It is remarkably difficult to change people’s behavior. Maybe a 30 day free membership to get people to try Pronto? I think once people try it, many will be more inclined to use it. Though I agree that the current single ride/day pricing is a barrier.
Personally if I ruled the world, public transit of all types would be free. That’s what it would take to change people’s behavior and I believe the end result would be a net financial gain.
Those are the exact same reasons that I love Pronto. I think the haters would feel differently if we had stations closer to their homes.
Nope. There’s a Pronto station 1 block from my house.
Does zilch to affect that I would never ride bikes on the streets around the station for safety reasons, therefore Pronto is completely useless to me.
Eli, I’m sorry you think you would never be safe biking in your neighborhood. It must have some pretty crazy traffic. If that’s the case, you are probably not all that safe walking there, either. If not too crowded, you could always try riding on the sidewalks (respecting pedestrian priority, of course). It would be great if Pronto had a 30 trial period for $25-30 that could be applied as a discount if you switch to an annual membership. I think at that price point, a lot of people might be willing to find out how useful bikeshare can be for getting around a city. But that should come after a system expansion so bike share is convenient to more destinations.
Sharon you are not an anomaly, but the voices of detractors are often louder than those who support a thing. I get the sense that many of the naysayers do not use the system. I for one loved it when I was living in Seattle. The bikes are not like the bikes I own, but I got used to them very quickly and they were there for me whenever I need them. I wouldn’t ride a Pronto 10 miles to work. They are efficient tools for shorter distances and mellow riding. Yes, $8 bucks for a day is steep, given that it is $85 per year, so they might want to rethink that. The system needs work, but then I found several issues with D.C.’s system, which is very built-out and well used. No matter which system we look at bike share is still in its infancy. Keep up your support. Let city council members hear your voice. Pronto is good for Seattle.
[…] Pronto needs city buyout before end of March, how did we get here? […]
It’s been suggested above that if only people would TRY it, perhaps they’d find that they like it.
I’ve said this before but will say it again. $10 to *TRY* something for 30 minutes???? This is insanity.
If extorting $10 (incl helmet) out of tourists for 30 minutes subsidizes locals, fine. Why not have a DISCOUNTED TRIAL RATE for locals?
Sharon’s suggestion of 30-day FREE TRIAL period is superb.
[…] our previous story, we dove into some of the management problems and miscommunications within the non-profit Puget […]
[…] previous stories, we’ve reported about how Pronto ended up in this do-or-die situation in front of the Council and how the system can flourish in our […]
[…] operations, it needs a $1.4 million injection of city funds by the end of March, Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog […]
[…] operations, it needs a $1.4 million injection of city funds by the end of March, Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog […]
[…] as the Seattle Bike Blog reported, former PSBS executive director Holly Houser had a different take on what went down. The biggest cause of the showdown, Houser told SBB, came from City’s miscommunication and delays […]
[…] one-year-old bikeshare system has struggled to stay in the black after a series of setbacks and revenue challenges. In mid-2015, Pronto management signaled to the City that the non-profit was […]
[…] sign that the Council doesn’t fully trust SDOT to handle the process on their own. And given the rough transition process that helped get us into this mess, that concern makes […]
[…] also pressed SDOT Director Kubly on the timing of the buyout process, asking him about a revelation first reported here that SDOT had been in talks about buying the system since May. Shouldn’t we have had this […]
[…] But that buyout got delayed for months, then PSBS staff quit as the non-profit started disbanding. Now the Council’s decision comes with a deadline looming before PSBS defaults on a loan and the system closes down. You can read more about how Pronto got into this financial trouble in our previous story. […]
[…] also did a great piece detailing the history of Pronto’s financial troubles and arguing the only solution that makes sense is the city buying Pronto since if it goes belly-up […]
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[…] already reported on the series of unfortunate political and bureaucratic missteps and unforced errors that led the system to this […]
[…] will come to a close on March 31 with a series of unforced errors and unnecessary political pain. Severely undercapitalized, hobbled by helmets, and going against best practices for network design, Pronto was doomed to […]