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Pronto will increase free ride time to 45 min + New monthly rate costs less than Netflix

Image from a Pronto press release

For the cost of three bus rides, you can ride Pronto Cycle Share for a month.

For the first time, Pronto is offering a monthly payment option rather than paying a lump-sum for a whole year. Especially for people on a tight budget, the $7.95 monthly payments are much more accessible.

You can now get unlimited biking for an entire month for less than the cost of Netflix.

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And if you buy your membership during Pronto Week May 2 – 8, the cost drops even more: Only $6.25 per month or $63 for a year. (Note that you have to commit to a year in order to get the monthly rate, and this deal is only for new members.)

SDOT Director Scott Kubly once joked that a bike share member who uses the system often might make their money back through reduced wear on their shoes. And if you live, work and play mostly within the limited Pronto service area, that might actually be true.

If you are a Pronto super-user (or want to become one), you can join this Pronto-only Bike Everywhere Challenge team and start logging your trips.

service areasBut maybe the bigger news for members is that starting May 2, you will get 45 minutes of free ride time per trip. Since Pronto launched, the free ride time has only lasted 30 minutes, which is not enough time to get from one end of the service area to the other (well, unless you are really hauling ass, which is not the point of bike share).

The extra 15 minutes will be especially helpful for people trying to bike between the U District satellite cluster and the primary system downtown and on Capitol Hill. You may even have time to make the trip via Westlake/Dexter and the Fremont Bridge instead of Eastlake if you prefer.

As we have reported, the U District stations are under-performing compared to the centralized mass of stations. Usability of a bike share station is dependent on the number of other stations within an easy bike ride, and there simply aren’t enough stations within a convenient bike ride of the U District stations. The new 45-minute free ride time brings more of the central stations within range, though they will likely still under-perform until the network expands.

In its first year, about a third of Pronto members bought their memberships between May and September. One unforeseen problem with launching in October is that all those founding memberships came up for renewal right as the rainy season started, which is not the best time to sell an $85 bike pass. If you are one of the 1,200 or so people who let their memberships lapse over the winter, now’s the time to renew. You now get the added benefit of paying monthly if you prefer.

After signing up for the new BMW ReachNow car share service, I found myself wishing Pronto had such a simple-to-use mobile app for buying and managing memberships. I’m sure such an app is more expensive to develop than I’m imagining, but it took only a couple painless minutes to register to drive a BMW (including a weird ID scan and selfie process to confirm my identity). If registering for a bike share membership were at least as quick and easy, I bet a lot more people would make the jump on board.

Of course the best way to get more Pronto users would be to link bike share and ORCA transit cards. How cool would it be if you could just transfer from a bus or train to a bike?

But every time I mention this to anyone who has had experience with the ORCA bureaucracy shudders at the thought of trying to squeeze bike share into its tense web of inter-agency revenue sharing deals. Is this a good excuse? Of course not! That’s taxpayers pay bureaucrats: To bureaucratize! But in the meantime, Pronto is left selling its own memberships.

The latest system changes come after a rough couple of months for the young bike share system. The service and SDOT leaders got picked apart under a microscope while the City Council deliberated for several months over whether to save it or let it die (Spoiler: They saved it). But hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Well, it’s not over. SDOT Director Kubly is under investigation for possible ethics violations related to Pronto. Though the alleged violations that have bee made public so far aren’t exactly bombshell accusations, they are eroding trust in him, the Mayor’s Office and Pronto. His past work experience with Alta Bicycle Share (later bought by Motivate, Pronto’s operator) was publicly disclosed and even praised when he was hired, but it appears he did not properly file a mandatory disclosure waiver. Kubly apparently tried to respond to the ethics waiver questions, but emailed his responses only to himself rather than the Mayor’s legal counsel (Lorena González, who left shortly after to successfully run for City Council), the Seattle Times reports.

It does not appear he benefited financially from any of this (he says he has no financial stake in Motivate, Pronto’s operator), and he certainly didn’t lie about his previous employment with the company. And even more, the City Council has set up the contracting process so he would not have a hand in selecting the company that wins the proposed expansion bid. Only in Seattle would such a violation of the Process™ draw calls for him to be fired so quickly after voters resoundingly backed his transportation vision by voting for the Move Seattle levy. At least give the guy a chance to deliver.

But regardless of Kubly’s troubles, Pronto needs to rebuild its image as a fun, affordable option for getting around town and connecting to transit. Though it seems like a simple idea on its face, Pronto is actually a pretty impressive and intricate operation that can be a deceptively powerful transportation tool.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of rolling up to a dock near your destination, hearing the beep that tells you the bike is locked and walking away as though you never even rode a bike at all. No worries about returning to get it later or concerns that someone might steal it. You’re free to bus back, hop a train, get a ride from a friend or simply walk if you want to. It’s true transportation freedom. Now let’s expand it to more of the city.

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37 responses to “Pronto will increase free ride time to 45 min + New monthly rate costs less than Netflix”

  1. William

    However many enthusiastic articles Tom writes about Pronto, it is still a incompetently implemented system that is of marginal use and that does more harm that good to bicycling in Seattle. That is unlikely to change while it is in its current state or anything it is likely to be in all but the distant future.

    The defense of Scott Kubly seems to be that he is more incompetent than ethically challenged. SDOT under his leadership has already released a 5-year plan that manages to decelerate the planned rate bicycle infrastructure improvements despite increased funding from the Move Seattle Levy. Furthermore the plan makes little effort to prioritize improvements so that they start forming a useful interconnected network (something Pronto desperately needs). I am really struggling to understand why any objective bicycling advocate would want to “give the guy a chance to deliver”. Kubly is inept and he needs to go.

    1. Reality Broker


      Scott Kubly has already enjoyed nearly 1/3rd of the tenure as DOT director as Janette Sadik-Khan as New York City’s transportation commissioner. How many more years are we supposed to wait for him to actually accomplish something?

      At this point, it seems pretty clear he is not delivering on anything other than empty promises and hot air.

  2. Alkibkr

    Not sure how bike share does more harm than good. It gets more people biking in its service area. If we don’t get more people on bikes in those areas, we will have a hard time demanding more bike infrastructure there.

    I regret that at the Janette S-K/Mayor love fest at Town Hall, I didn’t get to ask the question, which comes first? Bike share or bike infrastructure?

    I suspect, as has happened in other cities, if Seattle would just expand bike share to a useful level (like triple the current stations and bikes), the base clamoring for better infrastructure would likewise grow to a roar that could not be ignored. That would be a win for all cyclists.

    1. William

      Bike share in its current form “does more harm that good” because it provides the anti-bicycle lobby and many undecides with a glaring and high-profile example of the city spending its resources on somethings of low impact and importance; suggesting that all bicycle projects fit this category. The low ridership is seen by some as evidence that Seattle does not have the topography/weather/whatever-you-like to support widespread bicycle use and therefore, that money spent on a safe bicycle network, is poorly spent in support of a small vocal minority that will never grow

      1. Tim F

        It’s fascinating to see what random things people project onto bike share. In Vancouver bike-share’s bugaboo is that it somehow would compete with recreational bike rental. In NYC people imagined that bike share riders would be getting killed left and right. Here it’s being held to an unreasonable and out-of-context statistic in one NACTO paper.

        So looking forward to expansion. Got passed up by a few #40 buses heading to Fremont the other day, which is a pretty common at rush hour. Night and day different experience from Pronto-zone trips where there’s the option to bike.

      2. William

        It is hardly a “random thing” to complain that hardly anybody rides the bloody things. Yes ridership could be improved by expanding down the Burke Gilman corridor from the UW to Fremont and connecting down Westlake to lower Queen Anne and by improving the location and density of stations. But we are already on notice that this is unacceptable for equity issues so the system will also expand into less privileged locations where quite frankly the bike infrastructure is so poor that low ridership is guaranteed. The solution to this seems to be to trumpet the lousy 1 ride per day downtown as a successful level of ridership, thus creating a metric for success that even and expanded Pronto might well accomplish.

  3. Andres Salomon

    The 45 min time limit increase is most welcome!

    I don’t understand why they’d create a monthly rate that requires signing up for a year, though. Why not allow people to sign up for a single month? Are they afraid people won’t stick with it? I predict the opposite – more people would try it out and decide to buy a (cheaper) yearly membership.

    1. Gary

      They should have it be a rolling month to month, sign up and then you have to cancel to get out. That would get folks trying it in the summer, and letting it lapse in the fall to not canceling… and then not bothering to cancel in December because they are busy… with an occasional ride to being glad to have it on those nice days in February…

      Gym memberships operate on the principle that at $8/month you won’t bother to quit. It would work here too.

  4. Peri Hartman

    Why are they proposing such minor changes? I’m glad they are but I feel it’s not nearly enough:

    1. provide a single-ride price of, say, $2 and limited to 30 (or 45) minutes.
    2. for all other pricing, limit the time out to 2 hr. 45 min is too restrictive at this point.

    The single ride option, in my opinion, would make a huge difference. $8 for a single ride is way too much. And I suspect many people would rent a bike spur-of-the-moment if all they had to do was pay $2.

    Let’s make it very attractive for new riders. If we get too many riders, we can deal with that problem when it comes.

    1. yaybikes

      +1 on the single trip fare.

      Do you think anyone would ride the bus if King County Metro only sold day passes? Coincidentally, KC Metro day passes are also $8, and I’d imagine they are rarely purchased, and even then mostly by tourists. Sound familiar?

      1. Gary

        Tourists would use it more if they had the $2 option as well.

    2. RDPence

      Agree on being able to buy a one-month pass. At first, I thought that was the deal, until the “must commit to one year” text cropped up. Bummer.

      And Yes on the longer ride time; at least one hour, better two. Really, what’s the problem? It’s not as if there’s a wanna-be rider at the next kiosk just waiting for that bike you’re returning.

  5. asdf2

    I would like to see a before-and-after comparison of how the opening of the two new light rail stations has impacted the number of Pronto riders in the U-district. For me personally, it has made a huge difference – I use the service at least once a week, with nearly every trip connecting to or from the light rail at Husky Stadium.

    There are still some things I would like to see, namely more stations along the Burke-Gilman corridor and the Montlake Triangle Station moved a few feet to the north to be vertically closer to the Burke-Gilman Trail, rather than the street. I would also like to see a single ride option that costs less than $8.

    But, in spite of all that, the option to pay by the month and to have 45 minutes to complete a trip is very welcome.

    I don’t get the big outcry over Scott Kubly. Even if he forgot to file the disclosure form, it was just a formality – everybody already knew he worked for Alta in the past, and it was the city council’s decision, not his, to fund the bail-out. Much of it is probably anti-bike advocates just looking for something to complain about.

    1. William

      @asdt2 You seem to have forgotten that the whole brouhaha about Kubly’s potential conflict of interest arose because he misled the City Council on the number of Pronto users. Either he deliberately manipulated the facts (“lied”
      in plain English) or he is too incompetent to present accurate data. The former seems more likely but either way he should go.

  6. Greg pedowski

    The cheerleading on this blog is too much. Pronto is a pile of wastefully subsidized pile of garbage. Have you actually ridden those clunkers?

    And on Kubly. From the whole ethics thing, turns out he is an idiot at best. And heads a department that just gave up on bicycle infrastructure in the most important part of the city.

    1. Breadbaker

      Yes, several hundred times. And about a hundred times I made buses I would not have made if I had had to walk to them, plus I got exercise. I didn’t have to bring my bike with me. I’m lucky I live generally near where they are, but that’s true of a lot of people.

  7. Anthony

    Plunging further down the pothole, here we go. At least 1200 people smartened up and didn’t resubscribe.

    I don’t prefer Kubly but we have to be fair, this starts much higher and in our culture in general. The City gets to use him for a scapegoat and we’ll be talking about some other person in five years and once again how pathetic the current plan. It’s about avoiding real priorities until the overwhelming amount of our politicians get their asses on a bike seat and ride back and forth to work, and in general and then we might see something happen.

    Yes, we need more people on the streets but this is still the wrong method of going about it. Highly inefficient which alone kills the basic premise of the bike and anytime someone says to me the bikes are getting shuttles around in a car for relocation I just puke my guts out. Might as well get a full downhill bike and cruise Seattle on one with a cigarette and a beer, take the shuttle back up to First Hill!

    1. LWC

      I don’t understand critics’ perseveration on rebalancing of bikes. Every bike share system has areas of asymmetric demand… For example in NYC it’s from the subway in the morning, and to the subway in the evening. There are certainly many problems with Pronto’s current model, but having a truck shuttling a few dozen bikes every day (and if you actually look at the numbers, that’s what it is) seems like a red herring at best.

      1. Anthony

        I hate to say it but the few dozen bikes a day is due to lack of demand, if the system was in full swing the amount of bikes being ferried back to respective stations would be much higher.

        Shuttling is something we should do only as a last resort for the most part, it doesn’t encourage full fledged cycling behavior when you know there is a motor waiting to take the hard part away. Doesn’t matter if it’s Whistler or Capitol Hill.

        On my commute home now as of the past two months I am encountering more “e-bikers” too, people who really don’t want to put the effort in, it’s the same with Pronto. We need to be riding back and forth, and so much more. Hard hard is it to ride across town and make a u-turn?!

        We could have a bike share program work, but like I said we have to be enveloped by politicians who are literally on the ground with us everyday, otherwise they want to run over us in the car along with the rest of ’em. They have no vested interest and their safety isn’t compromised like what we face constantly, so why care?

        Until we address that we’re going further into that pothole I mentioned earlier and wasting huge amounts of cash in the process, and as one poster aptly pointed out on quite ugly bikes, yeesh.

      2. Peri Hartman

        I really think that’s a personal judgement – whether people should ride round trips or use e-bikes. It’s not too different from saying whether people should be vegetarian or eat meat.

        In my opinion, the more people get out of cars – especially SOVs – the better. If they mix transit and biking or walking, fine. Just my opinion.

  8. Anthony

    I hear you, and do I ever want to see more people out of the car. There isn’t a distinguishable line between SOV and things like electric, those are just as bad. My point is that the more items we add to a infrastructure it encourages half-hearted engagement. Even if most people just walked down the street or such we would have huge improvements in quality of life, I totally agree with you there.

    You are so right, it is all definitely a personal judgment but that’s my take.

    1. Timothy Fliss

      The history of cycling is a history of technological changes including pedals, bearings, gears, pneumatic tires, advanced welding, alloys, tube extrusion technologies, gps, heart rate, cadence and power monitoring, pedal systems, wicking textiles, lubrication, spokes, fairings and aero tech and even hydration and nutrition systems. This book is a relatively light treatment of the topic: http://www.amazon.com/Its-All-About-Bike-Happiness/dp/1608195759

      I don’t see how e-bikes or bike share make a person biking less worthy than having a low gear, properly pumped up tires or a roof rack. For the first time in twenty years of biking I’ve found myself riding almost daily all winter long because of Pronto. At $85 my membership was one of my least expensive and most-used cycling accessories. I’m also thinking of trading in my fancy, impractical and unused tri-bike for something with an electric assist. I already was able to get rid of my car. If others demonstrate their mettle by waddling around on pedal-free bikes with airless tires then more power to them. In fact the two year-old toddler crowd has had a wonderful renaissance in cycling enthusiasm since balance bikes have come back into vogue.

      Limiting cycling to only lifestyle cyclists with a very narrow definition of what a cycling lifestyle is will simply drive people away.

      1. Anthony

        Timothy, well I certainly don’t want to rain on your parade and to say the least I like hearing that the program works for you because it’s obviously made a positive impact in your life.

        When it comes to e-bikes the heart of the problem is they aren’t bicycles any longer, the introduction of a motor to me is an absolute last resort feature and the most likely application would be cargo bikes. Heck, if you (or any reader that is) have a tri-bike then it should be getting some regular use, otherwise I concur that trading it in for something more useful is a much better priority.

        I don’t mind any type of bicycle on the trail or road next to me, even a bikeshare, but e-bikes aren’t and they promote a type of cycling that one is really cycling anymore and two not a healthy alternative, we need less motors in the world not more.

        You don’t need Pronto to ride everyday, I don’t. It took me some time to get there but even though I’m disabled to an extent it doesn’t stop me from putting my 20+ miles each way to work. And we have gone over and over why Pronto has been a failure, it may work for you but it doesn’t for a lot of reasons. I still don’t see how the LBS’s benefit from it, this looks more like a take-a-way and hurts their bottom line. How about a voucher or serious discount/incentive program for people to take their own bikes in to the LBS, get out on the road and ride more? It starts by going a few blocks then eventually turns into a century. Cycling needs to be a daily routine.

        But hey, I wish you the safest out there on the roads and if you win this argument over the long run then heck at least we have both improved our physical fitness during that time, lol.

  9. Central Districtite

    Two questions:

    1) Where are we in the RFP process for expansion? Isn’t that supposed to be underway already?
    2) What happens when Pronto shuts down for a few months to expand? Will my “year” membership only give me 8 months?

    1. Alkibkr

      I believe Pronto is modular. If City Council would allow SDOT to buy more stations and bikes, they could just plunk them down where they are most needed.

  10. Alkibkr

    For the anti Pronto crowd, I would like to draw your attention to the following comment about the Water Taxi on the West Seattle Blog posted on April 28th:

    “Does anyone know what will happen if the stated 26 bike capacity [on the West Seattle Water Taxi] is reached? I’ve seen it very close to full on regular runs in the past. The shuttle doesn’t come near my corner of West Seattle, and my office is north of downtown, so I need to bike on both ends. Getting turned away due to full bike racks would be a pretty big hassle.”

    Savvy commuters know that combining a bike ride with public transportation is often the most efficient way of getting around. Bus, rail or ferry as far as it goes (until it gets stuck in traffic or stops going in the direction you need) and a bike to finish the trip. But with growing ridership, this method does not scale, e.g. not enough room on bus, train or ferry for bikes. This is exactly why we need to expand Pronto ASAP. It would have been nice to have a Pronto Station closer to the Water Taxi dock downtown for “Viaductageddon”.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Yep. And then there’s this: https://twitter.com/GordonWerner/status/726208613463650304

      We will fit more people on light rail if we have bike share stations available on both ends, combined with secure bike parking. Ride your own bike to the nearest light rail station, park it, ride light rail, then ride a Pronto to your destination. That scales much better than everyone bringing their bike on light rail.

      We still do need the option of bringing bikes on board, of course (if I’m carrying 2 kids on my bike, I can’t switch to a Pronto). But for the most common scenario, bike share fits really nicely with public transit.

      1. Gary

        “carrying two kids on my bike”
        My understanding is that you are not supposed to bring the large cargo bikes onto the Light Rail.

      2. Andres Salomon

        You at correct that it’s not allowed. That is a rule that needs to be changed.

        In the meantime, while there is no safe way to bike around downtown with a child, I will break that rule.

      3. Andres Salomon

        Also, note that you can carry 2 kids on a normal bike (rear seat + front seat). But not on a bike share bike.

  11. […] the program: Pronto is now offering a monthly payment option for membership and 45 minutes of free ride […]

  12. Eli

    Total aside, this quote perfectly captures how much SDOT and Kubly miss the point:

    “SDOT Director Scott Kubly once joked that a bike share member who uses the system often might make their money back through reduced wear on their shoes.”

    Through work discounts, I can get a Pronto bike share membership for the next year for just $8. I research it and decided it wasn’t even worth that little money.

    For it to mean reduced wear on my shoes, there would have to be walking trips that I’d actually be able to replace with biking trips.

    Except every one I considered didn’t have infrastructure I’d feel safe riding on (e.g. my SLU office to Westlake full of hundreds of young people who’d love to bike – except there’s there’s no modern bike infra connecting Dexter to a transit station) — or didn’t have a bike share station at all (e.g. UW station).

    So even for $8 for a full year, I decided Pronto wasn’t worth it.

    1. Alkibkr

      You’ve established that you are too uncomfortable to bike in the Pronto service area and feel safer walking, that’s a shame; this is obviously not as much of a problem for many bikers like myself who are finding Pronto useful. Contrary to your statement, however, there are two Pronto stations near the UW Link station. The closest one is on the other side of the crosswalk at Montlake and Pacific. There is another one a little farther away in front of the IMA building next to Husky Stadium.

  13. Jeff

    Unfortunately, these are the worst bikes I’ve ever ridden. Unrideable. Even for free, these bikes would be a useless resource drain.

  14. poncho

    Bike share isn’t for cyclists, its for pedestrians and transit riders. I’m not surprised cyclists who are attached at the hip to their bike not understand it. Just as I wouldn’t expect some suburban KIRO-watching motorist who is a slave to their car understand traveling by light rail. What bike share does do is expand the tent and get more non-cyclists biking and using the little bike infrastructure that we have.

  15. […] As we reported previously, a month of bike share costs less than Netflix. […]

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