Seattle is abandoning its Pronto! bike share system on March 31 after a sluggish 30-month run.
Of the 1,175 bike share systems operating world-wide, Seattle could be the largest to end its service in modern history.
Pronto! launched as a nonprofit concern in October 2014 with 500 bicycles stored at 50 locations. With the system running in the red, the city bought it for $1.4 million in March 2016 at the urging of transportation director Scott Kubly.
(Kubly subsequently paid an ethics violation settlement of $10,000 as he had previously served as president of the company operating the bike share system.)
The city had negotiated to replace the bicycle fleet with electric-powered bikes. Now, Mayor Ed Murray says the $3 million slated to go toward that system upgrade will be spent instead on improving Seattle’s bike and pedestrian infrastructure, such as bike lanes and Safe Routes to School projects.
What went wrong
Why did bike share fail in Seattle? A lot people have offered suggestions. Many foresaw this failure before the system launched.
— Seattle’s helmet law. The system had to supply helmets to riders to address the law requiring bicyclists to wear helmets. Although rarely enforced, the law is on the books nonetheless, and many don’t like that helmet restriction.
— Weather. Seattle is known for rainy weather. Even a short ride can be unpleasant for those without wet-weather gear.
— Hills. Seattle is also known for its hills, and casual riders faced a daunting challenge to climb to their destinations. (The electric bikes were proposed to address this problem.)
— Sketchy infrastructure. The city has made bicycle transportation safer with construction of some separated bike lanes and other improvements. Still, many routes don’t have protections. Seattle Department of Transportation bike map.
— Potential users already have bikes. With 3% to 4% of commuters using a bicycle in Seattle, many potential Pronto! riders already use their own bicycles.
— Poor location. Comments at Seattle Times and Seattle Bike Blog note the poor location of some of the 50 bike-share docking stations. Also, some cite that 50 stations isn’t enough to serve many destinations.
Although bike-share was apparently not a good fit for Seattle, bicycling is still a popular activity for transportation and recreation.
Let’s hope that the money transferred from the bike-share system goes to useful and timely improvements to the city’s bike infrastructure.
See more about the shutdown at Seattle Bike Blog.