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Pronto buyout draws ethics investigation against SDOT Director

Was it an improper conflict of interest when SDOT Director Scott Kubly started negotiations for the city to buy Pronto from the non-profit Puget Sound Bike Share?

Did SDOT staff mislead the public and City Council by overstating annual member ranks during the buyout legislation process?

These and other questions will be part of an independent investigation the Ethics and Elections Commission has ordered. Former King County Prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman has been contracted for $20,000 to lead the investigation, which she said will take a few weeks.

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King 5’s Chris Daniels broke the story Tuesday evening, and focused on discrepancies between the 3,000 annual members cited repeatedly during Council deliberations and the around 1,900 annual members currently registered with the system.

The system ended its first year with more than 3,000 annual members, but many have not renewed. The non-profit that owned the system — Puget Sound Bike Share — all but disbanded shortly before the one-year mark hit, so much of the work to sell the $85 memberships to new and expiring users likely didn’t happen.

And for the first few months of 2016, the future of the system was very uncertain as the Council debated whether to buy the system or let it die. So numbers likely continued going down since nobody is going to buy a year pass for a system that might close in a month or two.

I requested monthly membership information from SDOT and Pronto to get a picture of when membership declined. Below are the monthly totals from launch through January, 2016 (I have requested February and current figures and will update when I get them. UPDATE: At the end of February, the count was 1,906):

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 1.06.39 PMThe potential problem is that SDOT quoted the 3,000-member figure over and over in presentations like this slide:

Presentation - numbersAnd those figures factored into the budget analysis projected for 2016 if the city were to take ownership. City Council staff ran the numbers themselves independently of SDOT assuming 2015 user fee levels:

Central Staff Memo-2-citybudget

SDOT Spokesperson Rick Sheridan said the 3,000 figure was used because it represented a full year of members and was “an easy point of comparison with other cities”:

In its presentations SDOT utilized membership data based on the first full year of service, which amounted to slightly more than 3,000 active members. Using a consistent approach, we highlighted approximately 140,000 trips taken in the first year as well. On page 13 of the attached presentation [PDF], we note the membership total is a 2015 figure. One year’s data was used as it provides an easy point of comparison with other cities.

So was this misleading if current annual member levels are about 1,100 below the 2015 level? Maybe not. If enough user fees are collected by the end of 2016 to make up for the current gap (a reasonable goal since the year is still young), then the budget projection was accurate. I guess we’ll see what the investigation determines.

But both Council and Seattle Bike Blog clearly thought the 3,000-member figure represented current membership. Councilmembers have referred to that figure without being corrected, and I reported it several times without correction as well (though of course it isn’t SDOT’s job to correct my work).

I apologize for missing this piece of the story, along with Council and other media, despite covering it so closely for the past several months. While it may be technically accurate for the city to budget for 2015 user fee levels (that’s a fairly low bar to reach), the reality of current membership levels certainly deserved at least a mention during Council deliberations. All they had to say was, “We believe we can reach or surpass 2015 member levels through our marketing efforts,” and it would have been fine.

But this is the second major piece of SDOT’s projected Pronto budget that has needed scrutiny. As we reported back in February, SDOT’s initial budget showed the system in the black for 2016 under city ownership. But it later came to light that this rosy budget included a previous city payment marked under “revenue.” In reality, the system was projected to run $110,000 in the red (City Council’s independent analysis came to a similar figure: $115,000):

Slide from February 19 presentation to Council (PDF), red markup mine.
Slide from February 19 presentation to Council (PDF), red markup mine.

At that time I wrote:

These more sobering numbers don’t mean bike share isn’t worth saving and expanding. But we can’t have an honest discussion about our options without having clear figures to work with. If we base decisions on fuzzy numbers now, then we’ll just be back in front of Council in a year or so when they don’t pan out.

That same paragraph applies to this latest revelation.

Josh Feit at Seattle Met outlined another element of the investigation: As Seattle Bike Blog reported, Kubly’s SDOT started negotiations to buy Pronto from Puget Sound Bike Share in May of 2015, just seven months after the system launched and ten months after Kubly resigned from Alta Bicycle Share to join SDOT. Kubly and the Mayor’s Office may not have gone through all the steps required to safeguard against conflicts of interest, Feit reports:

… I confirmed that Kubly never presented the required letter to the city’s ethics department from the mayor to explain why putting Kubly in charge of the Pronto buyout was necessary and outlining safeguards to protect the city’s interests when there are potential conflicts. Such a letter is required when a city employee is heading up city business with a company they formerly worked for within the last year.

We ethical lines crossed? Again, we’ll see what the investigator determines.

In explaining his NO vote on the Pronto buyout, Councilmember Tim Burgess accused the city of “optimism bias” regarding the bike share system. Basically, he argued that the city wants bike share to work so badly that they are willing to ignore the economic reality of the system. I disagreed then and still disagree with this statement because I don’t believe we have really given Pronto the kind of investment in scale it needs to succeed. It’s like launching any business with only a fraction of the proper startup costs: It’s doomed to underperform.

With quality leadership and proper investment, bike share can succeed in Seattle. Its problems today stem less from inherent bike share problems and more from botched leadership, as we have documented previously. With all these unforced errors in the transfer of ownership and in presenting the unnecessarily-under-the-gun plan to City Council, perhaps my real optimism bias is believing SDOT is capable of running a bike share program to success.

Both Kubly and SDOT Active Transportation Chief Nicole Freedman have experience launching successful bike share programs in other cities. Some detractors note Kubly’s previous position as Alta Bicycle Share President (Alta was later bought by Motivate, Pronto’s for-profit operator) as a conflict of interest, but it was publicly disclosed and even used as a reason to hire him. After all, bike share was about to launch here, wouldn’t it be good to have someone in charge who is familiar with how it can work?

IMG_4161And before this ethics news broke, there were signs of progress. After we argued that the city and Pronto needed to get a Pronto station at Capitol Hill Station in time for Saturday’s grand opening, the city and Pronto staff worked hard and pulled at least one late night shift to get it done. And the station placement is perfect right next to the Broadway Bikeway and directly in view of station entrances (though sorry First Hill on losing your only station). Pronto crews also announced a major dock repair program to fix the persistent “dead dock” problem.

Well, the pressure’s on SDOT. This scrutiny is not going away. It’s on you to keep delivering the kinds of system improvements needed to make it work.

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75 responses to “Pronto buyout draws ethics investigation against SDOT Director”

  1. Jessi

    So, if we all go buy a bikeshare membership right now…

    1. Central Districtite

      Was considering it, but it’s not clear what will happen when the program gets mothballed before the expansion for a few months. Will my membership rate be pro-rated? If so, I’d consider it.

  2. Peri Hartman

    I hope the new management team reviews the pricing. $8 is just way to much to pay for one short ride. Even two rides. If you know you are going to use the system a lot, the annual membership rate is great. But I suspect most people want to try it out and see if it works for them before plunking down the annual fee. Or they might use it occasionally but not enough to justify, to themselves anyway, paying an annual fee. So let’s see the bar to entry lowered and get some riders !

    1. Marge Evans

      the fee needs to fixed. and the docking. if you are charging me $8, why make me dock every 30 minutes? I couldn’t bike from downtown Seattle to Fremont in 30 minutes on a Pronto bike.

    2. Jillian

      Completely agree!

  3. James Cameron

    Perhaps you could clarify . . . Pronto membership is annual and your monthly figures show the total number of (annual) members from month to month? If so, then this makes no sense:

    “SDOT Spokesperson Rick Sheridan said the 3,000 figure was used because it represented a full year of members and was “an easy point of comparison with other cities”

    And neither does this:

    “So was this misleading if current annual member levels are about 1,100 below the 2015 level?”

    since there is no 2015 level per se. There is a peak membership that was reached, the 3,186 in September, but the number before and after that peak fell off sharply.

    The City Council should have done a little more digging.

    1. I think what Sheridan meant is that the September figure represented a year’s accumulation of memberships, and was the first monthly figure to do so. Of course, every month’s count after that also represents a year’s accumulation of memberships: all the new memberships and renewals within the last year.

      The steep drop-off the next month represents all the people that signed up at the system’s opening but didn’t renew. Perhaps more early members signed up then didn’t use the system as much as they thought they would, as they didn’t have a chance to try out the system with daily passes. Certainly a lot of the early members signed up to show support for the system without any practical reason to use it regularly, and it’s natural for that to drop off in subsequent years.

      Aside from the initial burst, the membership numbers show more people signing up in the summer, when riding is most fun. June 2015, a big month for sign-ups, was an unusually beautiful June. These members count all year, so they shouldn’t cause seasonal effects once the system is established… but within the first two years, it’s plausible that some early members that allowed their memberships to lapse in dreary October might come back in sunny July. So it’s not totally crazy, right now, to use think the current count is lower than it’s going to be. It probably won’t hit 3,000 again for some time, though.

  4. Matt

    I had the experience yesterday of taking the light rail from UW to Capitol Hill for the first time and then transferring to a Pronto. It was such an enjoyable, simple and rewarding experience that it kills me we have to fight so hard for something so basic. Whatever the case may be for this “corruption”, I feel like we are attacking a kid for stealing candy from the grocery store. $1M in one of the richest cities in the richest country on earth is pennies compared to the real corruption. How is this making the news when we are spending BILLIONS more than we signed up for on 1.5 mile tunnel that is going to do nothing for this city.

    1. Marge Evans

      Matt, where did you go after that? current ridership shows riders riding from Capitol Hill downtown but not back. Pronto is using vans to ferry the bicycles back up the hill. Not very efficient or cost effective.

      1. Fair and Rebalanced

        Using vans to rebalance bikes around the system is done in every bike share system everywhere in the world.

      2. Breadbaker

        I bike from downtown to the Capitol Hill station every other day.

  5. Andy


    So, assuming those numbers you cite are the number of annual passes currently active, if I’m doing the math right, of the 1,154 annual memberships sold in the first month, at least 936 chose not to renew after the first year? (the drop from September 2015 to October 2015, assumes zero new memberships were sold in that month)

    1. Andy

      With the exception of the first month of operation, Pronto averaged 184 (median, 144) new annual memberships per month in its first year of operation.

      Let’s generously assume that September/October 2015 had equal to the lowest number of new memberships (99).
      That would mean that 89.7% of people who signed up in the inaugural month chose not to renew.

      1. asdf2

        Much of the drop-off could be seasonal. It is entirely reasonable for someone who’s membership expired in October to postpone renewal until the days start to get longer and warmer.

  6. bikergal

    I am one of the Founding Members who decided to not renew, even though I have a Pronto station 1 block from my home. It didn’t make $$$ sense to renew in October, with 5-6 months of rainy season ahead of me. I decided to look at an annual membership again in March/April 2016. I used my Founding Membership quite a bit (45 rides); it’s a good service if you live within the service area.

  7. ronp

    They can investigate all they want, but the employee conflict was disclosed and the membership data was not relevant to the decision (the issue was destroy bike share now and try to re-establish it later, or find a way to make it work with some ongoing minimal public expenditure). Council chose to keep it alive.

    It is such a small amount to spend and make urban life easier. The money for the stupid 99 tunnel could establish bike share in every large city in WA for centuries.

    1. Alan Newstead

      Short list of better uses for this silliness…

      1) more police
      2) food for homeless
      3) shelter for homeless
      4) more tow trucks to clear traffic
      5) job training for unemployed
      6) bike lanes for Seattle bike owners
      7) schools
      8) teachers
      9) fire fighters
      10) tourism promotion
      11) small business promotion

      965) have the best bike share program that no one uses

  8. William

    @Tom, Can we please have time out from Pronto articles? I was opposed to the city takeover primarily because I thought it would distract from higher priorities like creating a good bike network downtown and creating a good bike route from the U District to downtown (i.e., connecting the areas currently served by Pronto). Nothing could illustrate my point better than the fact that Seattle’s bicycle blog now spends 1/3 of its time promoting and discussing Pronto.

    1. Matt

      I don’t think the city has paused creating a safe bike route downtown and the entire BMP because Tom is writing timely and important articles about Pronto.

      1. William

        @Matt, With all due respect the pace of the city’s progress on creating and interconnected network of safe bike routes (rather than ad hoc segments) has been glacial and as of yet there does not seem to be any evidence that this is accelerating with the influx of more money from the Move Seattle levy. Rather than really pushing SDOT and the city council to focus on getting their act together, advocates like the Cascade Bicycle Club and Tom have distracted them with Pronto.

      2. asdf2

        That’s because of the lag time between planning and execution. The stuff that’s on the ground today is the stuff that was already funded, before Move Seattle was passed.

      3. William

        @asdf2, Granted but the recent discussions on next 5-year’s worth of work towards implementing the BMP are if anything less ambitious than they were prior to Move Seattle. Part of the problem is that each bit of bike infrastructure takes a lot of detailed planning and consultations with stakeholders – that is skilled work and there are only some many experienced people who can do it at SDOT. So do you want to best biking-related talent in SDOT working on reconfiguring Pronto to make it a creditable bike share or do you want them doing things like figuring out how to get bikes safely down Eastlake Ave or for that matter safely feeding into the northern end of the soon to be installed protected bike lane on Roosevelt Ave NE? I know what my preference is.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      I wish I could stop writing about the Pronto buyout, believe me. And I share your concern that it is distracting from the bike network needs. But this is a major update to the story, so I gotta report it.

      1. William

        @Tom, Well you made a choice to throw your full weight (and multiple articles) behind Pronto so I guess we are all stuck with it now (the citizens with paying for it and you writing about it). The first consequence is either that we are going to loose the head of SDOT because he is ethically compromised or it is going to become apparent that he is too inept to even present simple unbiased statistics about Pronto bike usage which one would hope would be reason to get rid of him too.

    3. Eli


      Seattle spending millions on bike share before we’ve built out safe bike infrastructure is like Flint MI spending millions on public water fountains before they’ve provided safe water to more than 3% public.

      1. asdf2

        The need for more and more safe biking infrastructure is effectively unlimited. If we insist that we can’t have bike share until protected bike lanes exist on every street, then we will never, ever, have bike share. And, neither would New York, Washington D.C., or any other city that has bike share today.

      2. Eli

        No, it’s not unlimited.

        If you don’t even have a basic network of protected bike lanes/greenways, you do not have a completed infrastructure platform on which to build bikeshare.

        What you have is exactly what Seattle built: a bike share system useful for 18,000 cycling enthusiasts who already own bicycles, and that is 100% doomed to failure.

    4. One thing that illustrates the point even better is that there’s an ethics investigation of the head of SDOT, whose department is responsible for billions worth of infrastructure, over such small-potatoes stuff. That’s to say nothing of the politics: if all the fundamentally honest reasons to invest in cycling are overshadowed by some questionable counting of Pronto memberships we could stand to lose a lot. With Rob Ford’s name in the news again, it’s worth remembering that his brand of local conservatism feeds on this sort of stuff. A Rob Ford-style reaction is unlikely in incorporated Seattle, but what about Bellevue, Renton, LFP, Lynnwood, Everett? All these places matter, too! And the general attitudes of non-cyclists toward cycling affects the sorts of pressures put on the state DOT — that matters a ton!

      Portland is taking a more hands-off approach. That’s looking even smarter today.

      1. (I think it’s totally reasonable to cover this stuff on SBB, though. Pronto is taking up too much airspace, but in the rainy season when construction and fun riding slows down the a lot of the news is meetings, and these are the meetings that are happening.)

  9. Marge Evans

    as a taxpayer and cyclist for $736.00 we could but every member a bicycle .

    1. Josh

      Not to say I support the buyout, but what good is buying each member just one bicycle?

      Then they’d have to schlep it around with them. You’d need to buy them one for the office, one for their bus stop, one for their doctor’s office… The whole point of bike share is that it makes bikes available all over the place, without having to constantly carry your own bike with you everywhere.

  10. Erik

    The math did not and does not make sense. The city buyout of Pronto happened because of cronyism which seems to be tolerated by those who are emotionally tied to a failed bike share system.

    1. Fair and Rebalanced

      Yeah! It’s almost like public amenities and transit systems aren’t operated to generate a profit! Who set up this crazy country?

      1. meanie

        Pronto has always been a solution looking for a problem, it made far too many compromises to be really useful. The reasons we are told we really need it change with every iteration, because it keeps failing the reasons presented.

        First it was last leg transit, then tourists, now its for low income communities.

        How many changes to the system have actually been tried? Other than abandoning the poorly considered electronic helmet kiosks that didn’t exist yet.

        Pronto is a distraction, with bad history, and a poor future.

    2. meanie

      Even if you can push aside the cronyism, which a *most* on the pro side have done, the reasons the council renewed were all intangible social justice theories. Future buildouts will have nothing to do with service or connecting the network, they will be chosen based on what a committee decides what groups and locations are most socially and economically underserved.

      The idea of a last leg bike share has been hijacked for political points, and the whole thing will suffer.

  11. Julio h

    Seattle bike blog made a big mistake being such a booster for this lemon.

  12. Alan Newstead

    Good detail here but…

    1) As mentioned by others the answer of 3,000 being a one-year number still doesn’t add up. Not by average or ending point. It can only be argued on the basis of peak.

    2) Have we asked the question about these being truly paid memberships? Are we sure there aren’t any free memberships from the initial months in there which would further explain the rapid drop once their anniversary month rolled around

    3) As the councillors who voted for this continue to miss, beyond the fuzzy math, is the question of prioritization. Could pronto work? Maybe, hopefully, kinda. But best case does it help 1% of the city population? 2%? I’m not demeaning the value of bikes in this city, but is that really our first priority, is it our 100th priority, is it even our 1,000th priority (ok, I’ll give you 1,000). Can we not agree that there are better uses of our tax dollars that perhaps we could first solve before we venture into trying to make this bike share thing successful?

    1. Fair and Rebalanced

      I’ll infer that you read this blog because you bicycle for transportation and further that you support investment in bicycle projects of some kind (say, trail projects – we usually actually all agree on those, as opposed to protected bike lanes). I could be wrong with those inferences.

      Now think about any support you have for spending on bicycle projects. Hold it in your mind. Visualize it. Now look at your point #3. How does your argument not apply to all bike spending? Citywide bike commuting is below 5% of all commutes.

      Tax dollars get spent on a lot of things beyond the “top priority,” and it’s okay to accept that we are a prosperous city right now and have leeway to try to be great, to try to have additional transportation options to get people around. We can handle the very small investment in Pronto. The Urbanist today points out that the Pronto acquisition cost the equivalent of 7 new Sound Transit park and ride parking stalls. 7. A whole mode of transpirtation for the cost of 7 parking spots. These “we can’t afford it” arguments read as pure concern trolling, and please think about how your argument would apply to the things you do support. A lot of urban investments directly help a small portion of the city or a subset of users. That is quite literally how government works.

      7 parking stalls.

      1. Jon K.

        That only proves that Sound Transit spends way too much on parking, which is a conversation for another day. Better to ask the question of “where could have $1.4 million worth of protected bike lanes been installed?”

      2. Alan Newstead

        I absolutely support biking and it’s a very good solution to transportation issues in this city accomplished through the many in the city who already own bikes.

        As for the other, while we are indeed fortunate to live in this prosperous city, you overlook that these top priorities are not even close to funded enough.

        We have a homeless epidemic, we have a drug epidemic, petty crime is rampant.

        Sure it’s only $1mil apparently 7 parking spots (maybe we need to figure out why they are so expensive while we are at it) but in real terms if we have this money lying around then you really would want to:

        -Provide 100,000 free meals to those in need?
        -Hire 3-4 additional police officers (offsetting the further tax increase that the mayor is looking for to fund this need)
        -Offering job incentives to small businesses. $25,000 tax credit for any position paying $50k or more? There would be 40 new jobs…

        The argument that we could afford is like a middle class family spending money on a Hawaii vacation rather than fixing their leaking roof. Sure they can live with the leaking roof and just need to dump out the bucket every couple of days, and geez they will just feel great hanging out on the beach for a week.

        But it still doesn’t make it the right decision, and is it not reasonable to ask our council to make the right decision every now and then?

        And wouldn’t it even be better when the group that they are trying to pander to stands up and tells them that there are far better uses for our collective tax dollars?

      3. Peri Hartman

        You know, logically what you say makes sense. But I’ll challenge it. There are always buckets to be emptied in life and sooner or later you need to take the vacation to Hawaii. There’s always an excuse to put it off. You can choose to do that if that’s how you want to live.

        For the city, we need to tackle a number of projects and not just the highest priority ones. Same goes for any business.

      4. Alan Newstead

        Fair enough Peri. You can take that vacation, and I respect that it’s your pergotive. But I’m not sure that the majority of the city tax payers would make that decision.

        And I do respect that we can spend money on other things that aren’t top priorities. I just can’t believe that it would be such a low priority item like Pronto.

        To really put this in context, my analogy is flawed as Pronto is hardly comparable to Hawaii.

      5. Do the math

        No, it would be like a family with a leaky roof going out to McDonalds, not taking a trip to Hawaii.

        Fair & Rebalanced is completely correct: $1.4M in transportation funding is close to nothing. Transportation infrastructure is insanely expensive in Seattle. Maybe instead of an ethics investigation we should hire someone to study why our costs are so high.

  13. Dick Schwartz

    You acknowledge that many of Pronto’s problems are the result of “botched leadership”. Then how do you explain Mr.Kubly’s over the top praise of Pronto’s “successful” launch of bike share in Seattle at a recent Transportation Committee meeting? This guy is just a slick flim flam man. The cycling community would be better served by a SDOT director with a more broad based level of respect. The general public is highly suspicious of his “agenda”.

  14. Sven

    I’m not sure Pronto was a good investment. Locals who bicycle will mostly prefer their own bikes. (They are not a joy to ride.) Locals who aren’t regular bicyclists won’t use it at all. Visitors to Seattle will be intimidated by the hills and put off by rain and that stupid helmet law. That money is better spent on infrastructure improvements that benefit more than 1500 or so people.

    1. asdf2

      “Visitors to Seattle will be intimidated by the hills and put off by rain and that stupid helmet law.”

      Most visitors visit in the summer, when it hardly rains. There are plenty of flat places to ride around the Burke-Gilman corridor. Granted, today, Pronto is useless for most of those rides because of poor station placement, but that doesn’t mean we need to give up and gut the whole system. Just add more stations, and move some of the existing stations closer to the Burke-Gilman. The lack of a station at Fremont/34th is especially bad. I have made several bus and/or Car2Go trips between Fremont and the U-district over the past year that I would have used Pronto instead, had the option been available.

      As for the stupid helmet law, police have better things to do with their time than to enforce it on riders who aren’t otherwise doing something dangerous.

    2. Kirk

      Hills and rain get too much credit for keeping people off of bicycles. Getting off the couch is much more difficult for most people.

  15. Todd

    Why are they wasting time with this Pronto stuff? Just lose it already and wash our hands.

  16. Tim F

    If bike share could help make Chicago, Boston and DC bike-friendly cities, maybe it could do the same for Seattle.

  17. asdf2

    Anytime you have limited resources to allocate to a large number projects, it is tempting to first prioritize everything in a rigid order, then go down the priority list, and fund projects until the resources run out. The problem this approach is that it puts all the money into big stuff, while small cost/small benefit projects get moved to the bottom of the list and never happen, even if they are ultimately more cost-effective for the small amount of time/money spent than projects higher up on the list.

    This is not just about transportation funding here – it’s about funding for everything. In the case of a city transportation department, rigid top-down priority spending, in order of number of users benefited would imply not funding any pedestrian or bike improvements until all car congestion is eliminated, so you should be careful what you wish for.

    In the case of Pronto, it easy for an armchair planner to say the $1.4 million for Pronto should instead go towards extending the 2nd Ave. bike path to Belltown. The reality is that it’s not an either/or. The city has money for both and will do both. The reason why bike facility progress has stalled in the city center has nothing to do with lack of funds. It has everything to do with people who don’t want to lose their parking spaces, and that problem persists, whether you fund Pronto or not.

    Even if the number of users is currently small, the cost we’re talking about is proportionally small, and if we invest in the system, the number of users will certainly grow. It is ridiculous that when Pronto finally has a light rail system to serve as a “last-mile” adjunct to, we advocate just throwing the system away, without even giving it a chance.

    The notion that if we terminated Pronto now, we could do better starting again later is a myth. Throwing the system away and paying the startup costs all over again would only make matters worse. In practice, if we gave up on Pronto now, it would be very difficult to get any kind of bikeshare started again for the foreseeable future.

    Nor do I buy the argument that because Kubly used to work for Alta, that bikeshare must be given up on, because saving it would create the appearance of a conflict of interest. His past association with Alta was disclosed, and the city council decided that the system needed to be saved, and who Kubly used to work for has nothing to do with it. It is time to move on.

    1. Anthony

      It isn’t armchair planning when people actually have to ride places like the Ballard Bridge and Second Avenue and get little to no return on real cycling infrastructure.

      The armchair planning comes from the City and its “brilliant” engineers who seem to think that pushing this bike share program with a degrading name to start will make their jobs last longer and make Seattle look good worldwide while accomplishing nothing.

      We need to start on prioritizing what’s most needed in terms of safety and real improvements, not brownie points at the voting booth.

      1. asdf2

        Even if Pronto didn’t exist, the improvements to the Ballard bridge and 2nd Ave. still wouldn’t have happened. As discussed in previous posts, a decent bike route on the Ballard Bridge would cost at least $50 million. $1.4 million doesn’t get you very far in that regard. 2nd Ave., the problem is not lack of funds – the city already has the funds – it’s appeasing those who don’t think the loss of parking to build a protected bike path is worth it.

      2. anthony

        asdf2, thank you for the reply. I respect your opinion here even though I may not agree.

        50 million to make the bridge better is no small change but frankly we’re only stuck with that because the City would freak out if we just started riding in the car lanes, which we should do. Basically what you are doing is making a case for the mayor to never implement any real safety changes, it just costs too much. So like you said throwing 1.4mil down the drain is nothing.

        The city is getting squeezed more in physical limitations and the real solution for me is in getting people back on the ground powering themselves to whatever destination. While Pronto is designed for that somewhat, it falls far short and I don’t see the overall benefit to the populace worth the cost.

        Since we’re talking about public subsidization my fantasy scenario would be more like the City giving vouchers or good discounts to ride your own bike and get it fixed at any of the cool LBS places we have all over town. I don’t have a problem with subsidies, just need to show we’re really getting something worthwhile in return for all those tax dollars spent.

        As for the ethics investigation, meh.

  18. Randy

    The city’s decision to bail out Pronto is a classic example of the triumph of hope over reason. All the economic indicators suggest Pronto will fail (including the recently adjusted membership numbers). Yet still the city plunges ahead. Think Monorail II.

    Seattle will learn what other cities with bike-share programs know: They cannot exist without a subsidy. (See “Beyond Urban Planning: The Economics of Bike Share” in the Georgetown Public Policy Review.) And Seattle will come to realize that many of the secondary benefits that have been touted — e.g., reduced traffic congestion, better air quality — will never materialize. (See “Bike Shares: A Synthesis of the Literature,” in Transport Reviews, Nov. 2013.)

    What’s sad is that in this journey to failure, we’ll have squandered enough money to create the equivalent of several Second Avenue Bike lanes. And we’ll have provided more ammunition to anti-cycling residents who say the city is already wasting too much money on biking infrastructure.

    1. newyorkisrainin


    2. Gary

      All transportation in this country exists because of subsidies. Cars, trains, light Rail, buses, taxies, bicycles, airplanes. Not one of these users pays the full fare of the cost of the infrastructure, the land, the fuel.

      That a bicycle share system requires a overt subsidy is not alone enough to toss it.

  19. Jonathan Callahan

    I’m a numbers guy. Lets calculate Pronto membership growth. Here is the equation:

    Growth = current month memberships – last month memberships

    However, given that these are annual memberships, a more mathematically honest equation would be:

    Growth = new memberships – non-renewals

    Given that we have no valid data for non-renewals before October of 2015, here are the only relevant numbers:

    Pronto Membership Growth (New Memberships – Non-Renewals)
    2015-10 -936 (-29%)
    2015-11 -63 (-3%)
    2015-12 -81 (-4%)
    2016-01 -134 (-6%)

    This is what happens to systems without capable leadership.

    1. ChefJoe

      Umm, Jonathan, how many annual memberships that were first sold in October 2014 would you have expected to be “non-renewed” prior to October 2015 ?

      1. Jonathan Callahan

        None. That’s precisely my argument for there not really being any valid numbers on growth prior to October 2015 when the first “non-renewed” numbers started coming in.

  20. RDPence

    My 2c. I’m still interested in the demographics of Pronto users. My perceptions, based mainly on observations, is that Pronto riders are mostly well-off young white males (who mainly ride downhill). I’ve raised this issue before on blog comments, and nobody responds with any data. Perhaps my assumptions are spot on, and the data brains don’t want to admit to that…

    1. Jonathan Callahan

      In the year’s worth of data released for the ProntoDataChallenge ( https://www.prontocycleshare.com/datachallenge ) we saw: 61% Anuual and 39% Short-Term pass holders.

      We only have gender and age information for the annual pass holders: 77% male, 21% female, 2% other.

      Age ranges and average elevation change per trip for the males:

      15-25: 11% -23m
      25-35: 53% -16m
      35-45: 19% -17m
      45-55: 12% -11m
      55-75: 4% -8m

      and for the women:

      15-25: 15% -19m
      25-35: 44% -21m
      25-35: 20% -16m
      35-45: 13% -8m
      45-75: 8% -10m

      By comparison, the average elevation difference for all short term pass holders was -4m.

      Not sure what general conclusions there are to draw other than people prefer downhill to uphill.

      1. Jonathan Callahan

        48% of annual member trips were taken by males under the age of 35. The DataChallenge provided no data on race or income.

  21. ronp

    I just cannot believe the anti bike share comments on this blog.

    Biking is good for everyone and it needs to be encouraged and supported. WA state annual transportation expenditure is $3.4 billion. City of Seattle is $400 million. There is plenty of money to spend on biking and walking infrastructure. We need fewer car lanes and polluting vehicles. Better urban design.

    Bike share works great in other cities around the world.

    Expand the protected bike lane network ASAP.

    1. Jonathan Callahan

      I love the concept of bikeshare and have loved using in Boston and DC. I am pissed at how Pronto was planned and managed. I see a great opportunity being squandered by a lack of vision, transparency of leadership.

    2. Matt

      I’m with you on this. Reading this comment section makes me just not care anymore about the rest of the cycling population here if people are going to be so self-centered. I’m a yearly pronto member that lives and works nowhere near any of the stations. I did it as an investment in our city and with the hope that it’s expanded. It’s the same reason I strongly support all of the light rail extensions even though none of them will be accessible to my neighborhood. I think Pronto can be something great if it was integrated into our public transit system and spread out to more neighborhoods.

    3. Eli

      And I can’t believe the idea that people should be blindly saying ‘yes’ to everything involving bikes, rather than asking what is good policy or not.

      Actually, in London (a “successful” bike share city, even by just 2010, they had spent about $36,000 per bike share bike. The money being spent there may be increasing bike trips — but it is absolutely draining the city’s ability to invest in modern infrastructure for the other 80% of the population.


      I don’t think it’s clear that they’re making the right investment.

    4. Alex

      “I just cannot believe the anti bike share comments on this blog.”

      Yes, we should not question something if we are idealogicaly aligned with it. Do you use this approach to other things in your life ?

      If you follow the Pronto / Motivate saga you will find that there many unanswered questions … But by your logic we should just sweep it under the rug .
      “Bike share works great in other cities around the world.”
      I totally agree but it helps when they are run by competent people who don’t lie ..

      And while we are being honest let’s stop calling a bike rental system sharing

      1. ChefJoe

        But “sharing” is modern and hip. Look at how successful the county’s bus-sharing system is, afterall.

  22. Matthew Snyder

    From a practical perspective, will the ethics investigation, whatever you think of its merits, have an immediate impact on the Pronto bailout? My understanding is that the next Pronto bill is due March 30, and without an influx of funds from the city, Pronto can’t pay the bill. It’s March 24, and the Mayor still hasn’t signed the bill approving the city takeover of Pronto. This puts the Mayor in sort of a tight spot, I would think — either sign the bill now, in the face of an ongoing ethics investigation specifically and narrowly about the bill in question; or don’t sign the bill, which would result in default.

    Or could SDOT just issue another “stay afloat” payment directly to Pronto, as they did recently, from funds that have already been allocated?

    1. Tim F

      The city council released the funds, so it seems the decision is made. For what it’s worth the low numbers were yearly subscriptions, not ride totals. Anecdotally, I went for a lunch time ride from the Center for Wooden Boats to Seattle Center/Key Arena yesterday (via the protected bike lane on Mercer) and there was a big group that looked like they were trying it out for the first time.

  23. […] Under investigation: Scott Kubly, the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, has been hit with an ethics complaint and investigation. […]

  24. Stardent

    Bike share here is doomed. If you are going to be biking in the rain, then you have to have rain gear for riding. That’s the sort of people who ride their own bikes any way. Given our hills, bikes are not a realistic option for tourists either. I predicted here when Pronto started that it would soon fold. It’s simply unsustainable and the city will have to shut it down since subsidizing bike share (which is the only way for it to continue) would be very unpopular.

  25. […] months-long ethics investigation concluded that Kubly violated ethics rules by working with former co-workers during the bike share […]

  26. […] been sold since they went on sale June 14th. Contrast that with Seattle’s bike share system which had 1,154 members at the end of its first full month […]

  27. […] system ended its first year with more than 3,000 annual members, but many have not renewed,” the Seattle Bike Blog wrote of the […]

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