Why everyone should try Pronto before it shuts down Friday

Soon, these stations will become part of Seattle legend... the bike share that once was.

Soon, these stations will become part of Seattle legend… the bike share that once was.

If you have not yet tried Pronto Cycle Share, make it your civic duty to give it a spin before it shuts down for good Friday.

Yes, I’m talking to you, haters.

I’m also talking to all of you who ride your own bikes and never saw the need or use in trying Pronto. And to all of you who don’t work or live anywhere close to the service area. Go out of your way to try it in the next couple days.

Because after Friday, Pronto will become part of Seattle lore: The public bike system that once was.

So take the light rail to UW Station and grab a Pronto to get coffee on the Ave. Or take a bus or train to International District Station and Pronto up to Pike Place Market for lunch. Find an excuse. It will only cost you $8.

Because while Pronto is going away, the debate over bike share in Seattle is not ending any time soon. And if you want to have first-hand experience to know what you’re talking about, this is your last chance.

Bike share is simply one of those things that doesn’t totally make sense until you do it yourself. There’s this almost magical feeling that happens when you dock the bike at your destination and hear it beep. You get to just walk away. The bike isn’t your responsibility anymore. You don’t even need to bike back later if you don’t want to. You can take a bus instead. Or get a ride from a friend. Whatever.

In a word, it’s freedom.

I have written exhaustively about Pronto and how we got where we are. I won’t rehash that all here. Instead, go experience it for what it is, warts and all. It’s the start of something that could have been great, a bold idea that really happened, but never reached its potential. Get some fun in before the depressing work of dismantling it begins, as explained by the Seattle Times:

 

Its last day of operation will be Friday. After a weekend in purgatory, work crews will begin taking down and packing up the program’s 54 stations and 500 bikes on Monday. That process will last about two weeks, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) said.

The equipment will be put into storage as SDOT looks for other cities that may want to buy it. Pronto stations that were on the street (as opposed to a sidewalk) will be replaced by whatever parking type is on the rest of the block while SDOT considers future uses.

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48 Responses to Why everyone should try Pronto before it shuts down Friday

  1. Brian says:

    Just curious…does anyone know if Pronto could have simply shrinked to survive? I.e. to pare it down to a few viable routes?

    • MA says:

      In my opinion, you need the exact opposite for cycle share to be viable. We used the cycle share on vacation in NYC and the stations are everywhere so you never felt limited in where you could go and they put quite a bit of effort in balancing out the stations. I think they are even working on giving subscribers credits for riding bikes to where they are needed. Also, no helmet logistics/laws to deal with.

      Seattle was just a pain. Not enough bike infrastructure, hills, helmets and limited stations.

    • Tim F says:

      Pronto had to grow to survive. The original proposal was for 160 docks and 1600 bikes. Instead it was implemented with about 35 docks around downtown and about 15 docks in a separate area around UW. So the “big” part of the network was about 1/3 the size of the new systems in Portland and Vancouver. Bike share use is non-linear with number of docks, so a 3x bigger network could lead to something like 5x more use. The really big networks add more bikes and docks each year than we have total. Pronto was often unfairly criticized for not having the statistics of some of the largest systems in the country.

      Pronto was unfortunately never more than a pilot system. I’m glad that Portland and Vancouver seem to have at least learned that lesson from Seattle’s mistakes with Pronto.

    • Joe Sundstrom says:

      The industry standard for station density is 25 stations per square mile.

      Pronto should have pulled the system into the waterfront/downtown/South Lake Union area once the first (of 2) planned expansions failed.

      It would not have been that simple , however, since some of the locations were under contract to remain at that location.

  2. Matthew Snyder says:

    Any word from SDOT on what’s going to happen to the on-street Pronto locations after Friday? I really hope there’s a plan to replace them with bike parking corrals (ideally the Portland-style ones rather than the awkward kind like the one in front of Peddler). I’m guessing the more likely scenario is that SDOT just lets them return to being car parking spots. I wrote to SDOT about this but never heard anything back, nor have I seen any discussion on this opportunity elsewhere. Let’s at least make some lemonade with these lemons.

  3. Amy says:

    As someone lucky enough to live, work, and play within the Pronto service area, hard to express how much this loss hurts. I’ve spent a over one hundred hours on Pronto bikes across ~1000 trips. For the past couple years it’s gotten me to and from work every day, to doctor appointments, lunches with friends, quick errands, and leisure rides along the waterfront. Sadly once it’s gone there is nothing to fill the void. Every other transportation option available is either slower, less reliable, more expensive, or does not allow 1-way trips. Once Pronto shuts down my daily commute time will triple and I’ll spend a lot more of my life stuck in traffic and searching for a parking spot. I’ll miss the fun, the exercise, and the freedom that Pronto provided. I wish Pronto had been given a fighting chance so others could have seen how much value it adds to this city. It was snuffed out in the cradle.

    • sb says:

      Would you be able to still do some of that stuff with a cheap bike of your own?

    • Steven Lorenza says:

      Buy a bike.

      • Amy says:

        After a significant initial expense, ongoing maintenance expenses, dedicating secure space to store it, added hassle of lock/unlocking it at destinations, and taking on significant theft and vandalism liability, it still wouldn’t solve the critical problems of spontaneous travel and one-way trips that Pronto solves. Owning a bike might work well for some but it’s hardly comparable to having access to a bike share network.

      • Steven Lorenza says:

        Understood, thanks

      • Dave F says:

        Like Amy, I used to ride Pronto multiple times a day, and it was a great way to travel to work, visit friends, and run errands around downtown. According to my account summary, I took 741 trips totaling 706.8 miles and 94 hours and 47 minutes.

        And to the haters out there, I do own my own bike. As Tom mentioned above, one of the best parts about bikeshare is that they are useful even for people who already own their own bikes. (Washington, DC learned that members were actually MORE likely to buy their own bikes after joining bikeshare.). Bikeshare is great for one way trips, like cycling to work in the morning, and then traveling home with friends in a bus/car/uber in the evening.

        And when the city streets locked down because of fish trucks, people stuck in trees, or tank trucks on I-5, Pronto let me skip traffic without a hitch, every time. Our city has a traffic crisis, and eliminating transportation options is the stupidest thing we could have done.

        We are now the largest city in the county without a bikeshare system. The “unique” thing about Seattle isn’t our geography or weather. It’s the fact that our mayor didn’t put any support behind a system he threw under the bus when he came up for re-election.

      • Conrad says:

        Well said, completely agree

      • 47hasbegun says:

        Sounds like a folding bike might be suitable for Amy: storage isn’t an issue and you don’t need to leave it locked outside when indoors.

        Just something worth considering.

      • Tim F says:

        I keep my folding bike in my pocket. In the last two years I only spent a couple hundred bucks total on my folding bike. When friends come to town I just type in a few numbers on a keypad and a second folding bike appears so we can ride together. If my folding bike gets a flat or the chain starts to make a funny noise, I just press the red button and the next time I use it, everything is better. My folding bike has lights that I never have to remember to charge. I leave my folding bike in the middle of downtown Seattle, sometimes for a month at a time. I never worry about it getting damaged or stolen. I didn’t even have to check my folding bike when I flew visit family in Washington D.C. Oddly enough it was a different color when I got there, but it worked mostly the same.

      • asdf2 says:

        As someone who owns a folding bike, I can tell you that it’s not a magic solution. Folding bikes are considerably more expensive than comparable conventional bikes, and the process of folding them and unfolding them is not instant nor painless. They’re also big enough and bulky enough to make carrying them inside of a bus difficult and clumsy, especially if the bus is crowded. And their smaller wheelbase generally results in a less efficient ride. You will also have to sacrifice some of the folding bike’s compactness if you want clip-in pedals.

  4. Changren Yong says:

    I was in Beijing a few weeks ago and I was pleasantly surprised by the huge number of people using bikes from several competing bike sharing programs. One of the more popular one is called Mobike and it is also being operated in several Chinese cities. Every Mobike is internet-connected so its exact location can be pinpointed by the Mobike app. The Mobike app is used to locate, reserve and unlock the bikes. Similar to BMW’s ReachNow car sharing program, you do not have to return the bikes to dedicated bike stations. In fact, there is no bike stations. You can return the bike to Mobile Preferred Locations (essentially within specially-painted space on the sidewalk), public bike racks or any other publicly-accessible locations that do not obstruction the flow of pedestrian/vehicle traffic.

  5. Eldan Goldenberg says:

    Any word on the amazing downtown bike infrastructure that’s supposedly going to be built with the money this saves?

  6. d reeves says:

    I’m going to miss it quite a bit. It was really freeing to be able to go somewhere and just drop off the bike. Granted – I tended to use it one way – usually flat to downhill – but being able to bike somewhere and take transit back, for instance, was really lovely.

  7. sb says:

    A year or so ago they had the offer for 30 (?) free minutes for non-members. That was the only time I actually tried Pronto.

    I wanted to really like it but it was kinda underwhelming. Granted, I only rode around and returned to the same stop, thus I didn’t experience the convenience of going from Point A to Point B and quickly leaving the bike there.

    But the heaviness of the bike just made it Not Fun. It would have been fine cruising on a beach boardwalk, but going down a street with car traffic made me want to get home and hug my Surly. I totally get why people who don’t bike much may not have embraced the Pronto system (even if they were on board with the concept).

    • CW says:

      Very much this. I also tried Pronto on the free day and really disliked it. I’ve used the bike shares in London and NYC and thought they were great, but the Pronto bikes had a very uncomfortable geometry, and both the bike I had and my friend’s had barely-working brakes. And then there’s the traffic and lack of bike facilities. On my own bike, I feel relatively safe in Seattle traffic, but cruising down 4th Ave on a Pronto bike, I felt very exposed. It was too heavy and inefficient to go at a good pace, I was afraid I might not be able to stop if I needed to, and the steering felt oddly twitchy at low speeds.

      Really, everything about Pronto was begging to be put out of its misery. Bad bikes, not enough bikes or stations, ridiculous pricing ($8 for 30 minutes? I can make my trip in a BMW for less), not enough bike facilities, and a stupid helmet law. And then there are the hills and the weather. The hills can be overcome with policies (free rides uphill would change the dynamic), but the weather makes biking a tough sell for the casual user.

  8. David says:

    One word to summarize the lackluster use of this service on any consistent basis:

    Rain

    That is all.

  9. Greg says:

    I don’t mean to be a hater, but I don’t love that the service was never economically feasible. The business model never seemed practical, very risky to bet that enough people would want to borrow a bike (that didn’t already have one) to get between two places in this rainy and hilly city. That seems like a problem even to a bike lover like me. I would have very much rather seen the money the city of Seattle spent on Pronto spent on greenways instead.

  10. William says:

    Tom, It is rather insulting to your readers to state that “Yes, I’m talking to you, haters”. The bottom line is that bike share is a good idea and seems to work most other places but in Seattle is has been so abysmally implemented that it has failed. You label those who pointed out the numerous and pretty obvious flaws in Seattle’s approach as “haters” but had the people in charge of implementing bike share in Seattle actually listened to this critical input, it would have more chance of success. To the extent that you encouraged the powers-that-be to ignore the critics, you share in the responsibility for bike shares failure to date, and you increase the chances that the next iteration will not learn the lessons of the past.

    It is totally specious to make argument that somehow if we all tried the current clunky system we would all be converts and everything would be fine. You are implying that somehow if Pronto had had better PR and teaser rates to get people to give it a try, this could have made the system viable despite the lack of planning and organization. That is just not the case, however much you wish it was.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      You read a lot into that one word.

      I’ve been very critical of Pronto. I don’t blame the people for not riding Pronto, and I’ve never said that. It was Pronto’s job to make itself more useful to more people.

      • William says:

        Tom, Why label as “haters” the people who think that the city would be better off without bike share until is has a viable network of bike lanes, a sensible plan for the first deployment, a change in the helmet law, bikes with a basket so you can carry something, etc.? It is only one word but in your role as moderator, you have deleted comments for less.

        As best as I can remember, your primary criticism of Pronto was that the city did not plough even more money into it to expand the network and lower the costs of casual usage.

  11. Breadbaker says:

    Much like Amy and D Reeves, I used it pretty much every day and found it useful for all kinds of things, from going from UW station to my dentist to getting to my barber at 1st and Bell to catching up to my bus that I would have missed downtown by passing it in traffic on Dexter.

    One thing that really ticked me off about the abrupt end to it is that the one group that no one consulted were those of us who used it. Not only did no one seem to care to inquire about why it worked for us, which might have been a clue as to how it could have been improved, but no one seems to give a crap about the inconvenience its absence after this week will cause us. I’m going to have to carry a folding bike onto buses part way everyday, rather than just being able to drop the thing off somewhere and hop on the bus. It will slow down the buses I ride, but that’s the only way I can continue to get where I need.

  12. DOUG. says:

    I took my final Pronto! bike ride this afternoon and made my case against re-electing Ed Murray.

  13. Greg says:

    Well implemented bike share systems in cities with a functioning bike infrastructure network are fine things. The one in Munich (they have *two* competing station-less systems each with 1000s of bikes!!) in particular is terrific (I used it for a week last spring). It’s an amazing thing to seamlessly string together bike/walk/transit trips across a city – that’s freedom!

    Seattle’s system, on the other hand, was antiquated at birth, poorly laid out, hampered by an idiotic all ages helmet law, surrounded by inadequate, badly designed bike infrastructure (the system’s terrible and such small portions, too ;-), terrorized by sorta-kinda licensed, under-insured drivers enthusiastically punching away at their phones when they’re not too drunk to figure out what they want to IM to their buddies, and relatively expensive. Other than those minor issues it was totally awesome.

    Seriously though, I think our one hope for real bike share is for the one of the giant Chinese startups like Bluegogo or such to decide to try and expand here.

  14. Eli says:

    I’m looking forward to using New York City’s comprehensive bike share system next week — especially with the 15 miles or so per year of protected bike lanes they’ve been building for riders like me.

    (It’s hard for me to ride a bike on Seattle’s never-ending empty promises of modern infrastructure where we need it.)

  15. I actually tried Pronto once – just for the hell of it – partially to see what all the fuss was about, and partially to see how viable I thought it’d be for a “non hardcore cyclist” civilian here in Seattle. i.e. “would my non bike nerd friends like and use this?”

    I had some baseline frame of reference to compare it do – I’ve rented bikeshares in other cities besides Seattle, while travelling both for business and on vacations.

    In short – nope. I see why it died. I think Pronto failed not because bikeshare-as-a-business-model isn’t viable (I still think it is) – but not in Seattle. Because let’s face it:

    Riding bikes in Seattle is simply too scary / too much hassle / etc. for the average non-serious-cyclist to deal with. Unless they live and work on a perfect route, it’s still not practical to deal with bike sharing. They’re just gonna prefer to walk, drive, or take a bus/cab/Uber/Lyft to get around. The people who like bikes and are willing to look past the hassles of rainy weather, hilly streets, and narrow + car-filled routes? Those people already have gone beyond Pronto’s use case because they already own their own bikes.

    This opinion isn’t unique of course, and it gets parroted all the time as the main reason Pronto failed. I don’t agree that bike share systems are never going to work, but I do agree that they’re simply not practical here in Seattle. Wish it weren’t the case.

    • NK says:

      “Those people already have gone beyond Pronto’s use case because they already own their own bikes.”

      I hear variations of this sentiment constantly and it surprises me how many people cannot identify the differences between bike ownership and bike share.

      Yesterday I got dropped off at work. Then after work, I walked to a bar with coworkers. When it was time for me to go home I assessed my options and realized that biking would be the quickest and best option.

      Unfortunately, my bike that I own did not magically materialize at the bar on command when I needed it! It was at home. Fortunately, there was a Pronto station outside the bar, so I rode Pronto home.

      Whether or not one owns a bike does not matter at all when discussing the utility of necessity of a bike share program.

      • “I assessed my options and realized that biking would be the quickest and best option. – there was a Pronto station outside the bar, so I rode Pronto home”

        That’s a perfect use case, and it’s great that for *you* Pronto is / was a valid (or even superior) option!

        But do you really, honestly believe that there are enough people in Seattle that would find themselves in that exact same scenario?

        I’m not saying bike share systems are completely impractical for the entire population of Seattle. I’m saying that the # of people in Seattle for whom bikeshare IS practical is too small to support something like Pronto.

        Sucks. I really wanted Pronto to take off. But I get why it didn’t.

      • Al Dimond says:

        I’m gonna come down in the middle on this one: there are plenty of cities where you might say biking isn’t for the faint-of-heart, where bikeshare is doing better than here. And at the same time we have less margin for error than many cities.

        Seattle offers some unusual and permanent challenges, in how steep our downtown area is, and in how many transportation bottlenecks we have, imposed on us by natural physical features. We have some unusual and temporary challenges, in particular the very large amount of construction going on in the greater-downtown area. Because of these challenges, I really do believe cycling enthusiasm is something that runs more deep in Seattle than it runs broad, compared to other places I’ve lived.

        But Pronto made a lot of mistakes, and it isn’t reasonable to conclude that Seattle is completely unsuited to bike-share just because it failed. We did manage borderline-OK usage numbers in some places even without enough station density or coverage to capture more than a fraction of most people’s needs, which proves the concept at least a little!

        So the particular mistakes of PSBS matter — they may have been decisive. I think it’s unfair to blame general city leadership — PSBS dropped the ball and left them in a no-win situation.

  16. Bob Hall says:

    “Because while Pronto is going away, the debate over bike share in Seattle is not ending any time soon.”

    Sad to see Pronto go, but I’m looking for silver linings. Not hearing any more debates about Pronto, helmet laws, and Kubly’s mis-steps seems like a welcome ray of sunshine.

  17. ronp says:

    This is a terrible end result do to crappy planning and financing. Was Children’s Hospital to blame for the extension of the service outside the core?

    I really hope a stationless system arrives soon and that we get protected bike lines built out in key corridors.

    • Al Dimond says:

      Whatever you have to say about Children’s Hospital, they were critical early supporters of the system. It wasn’t just one hospital, of course: PSBS received grants from state and federal agencies. Surely PSBS’ futile plan to start suburban satellites was influenced by this, as being able to list a handful of benefitting cities looks great on a grant application that will be read by people without any deep knowledge of cycling, bike-share, or any element of our region’s geography more detailed than the freeway network.

      Then after the city of Seattle took over, any expansion was going to be dictated by city politics. It’s not unreasonable for the city to insist on quite broad geographic coverage when spending general-fund money, and Seattle’s boundaries are at least contiguous, but it stretched the budget for bikes and stations too thin in all the expansion proposals.

      A bike-share system can’t benefit anyone if it’s not effective. We might figure that the quickest path to an effective system, one that benefits a significant number of people relative to the public investment, would need good station density in a large, contiguous area, and would rely on existing good bike routes — it’s not the kind of investment that can make up for generations of disinvestment (bike-wise or otherwise), it’s the kind that builds on generations of investment. The reality is, that looks a lot like the rich getting richer. If we’re going to build a system that looks that way, the “rich” had better kick in some support. Here, that would mean the major businesses and institutions of greater downtown and neighborhoods like Fremont and Ballard that often get called “bikey”. They never did. If you see the central parts of Seattle mostly as the centerpieces of our public realm, the parts of town we all share, it’s natural to put general-purpose funds toward their improvement. If you see them as increasingly exclusive areas, dominated by wealth-concentrating export industries that lack local civic engagement, you’ll ask them to step up and pay their own way. I think there’s some truth to both views.

      • ronp says:

        Good points, I biked home through South Lake Union yesterday and passed the new Amazon Spheres. Sort of weird public/private vibe on those things, but emblematic of our disjointed recent growth.

  18. Breadbaker says:

    Took my last Pronto ride tonight, riding from UW station to 12th and Campus, where I caught up to a 32 I would have missed had I simply walked from UW station to the nearest bus stop, plus got in a nice half mile ride. Gonna miss that functionality.

  19. bleugh says:

    the pronto bikes were the heaviest clunkiest POSs I’ve ever seen or ridden (yes I did try it once when a friend rented one) and had considerably less infrastructure built up for their use compared to lighter forms of transport- train, semi-truck, jet liner, etc.
    maybe they should’ve marketed it to serious cyclists who want to beef up, they could be like the weight they put on the bats when on-deck, then once you get back on your alloy or carbon frame- zoooooom

    causes of the system’s failure-
    #1) POS bureaucrats
    #2) POS bikes
    #3) Hills/rain/cycling in Seattle is serious, hardcore stuff, not for the faint of heart

  20. Eli says:

    BTW, this is a great counter case-study in what customer awareness & leadership looks like, if you want your bike share system to succeed:

    http://nyc.streetsblog.org/2017/03/31/an-emerging-bike-share-success-story-in-bed-stuy/

    I think NYC is now getting higher ridership numbers in just the *Bed-Stuy* neighborhood of NYC than Seattle was getting for the *entire system*.

  21. O says:

    $8??? I have about $100 into my current commuter (early 90s stumpjumper). No wonder no one rode it, you could buy a much better bike after less than two weeks of daily riding

    • Nathan says:

      Then again if you live in Seattle, you would of course buy an annual Pronto membership rather than purchase $8 24-hour passes every time. An annual membership would have cost $8 per month for unlimited use. Even if you were given a bike for free, the cost & time of maintaining it would far exceed the cost of Pronto.

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