City crews are loading up those lime green bikes you may have seen people riding around. The bikes were part of Pronto, Seattle’s short-lived bikeshare program. The city has put the brakes on the system because not enough people were actually riding the bikes.
Pronto launched in 2014 with 500 bikes and that first year saw less than 150,000 trips. By comparison, Washington, D.C.'s program started a few years earlier with 1,100 bikes and over a million trips.
Seattle missed a big opportunity if you ask Ryan Packer. He's been using Pronto since day one.
Last Friday, the final day of Pronto, Packer noticed something different about the computer system: “You can’t buy a three day pass anymore," he said.
Packer has logged over 2,000 trips on Pronto. He bikes from Capitol Hill down to his job at Zeek’s Pizza each morning. In addition to slinging pizza, Packer is also the senior editor at The Urbanist blog.
He’s thought a lot about bikeshare and believes bad design is one reason bikeshare wasn’t successful here — bad design of both the Pronto system itself and bike lanes around the city.
“It’s like a big Rube Goldberg machine to feel safe riding from one point to another," Packer said. "It should be seamless. It should be serendipitous. You can’t really just pick up a bike and head somewhere.”
And when it comes to bikeshare, size matters, according to Gabe Klein who used to run one of the most successful bikeshare programs in the country: Capitol Bikeshare in Washington, D.C.
“I think that fundamentally the most important thing that you can do when you are launching a bikeshare system is make it big enough and have enough utility for it to be a primary mode of transportation, not a secondary or tertiary mode,” Klein said.
But Derrick Hicks thinks there is actually a different problem. He lives in Seattle and has used Pronto once or twice. He said for biker riders, it is kind of weird to be borrowing a bike.
“People that do bike around own their own bikes," Hicks said. "They’re the ones that are willing to go up and down the steep hills and around. But people that bike less — that would want to rent bikes — are not willing to do the very serious biking.”
The city had budgeted $3 million for Pronto. Mayor Ed Murray said that money will now be used to improve other pedestrian and bike projects.
Packer isn’t optimistic that will be as beneficial as if Pronto had been fully flushed out. He said the city is going to be worse off in the long run if we don’t find a way to make a bikeshare system sustainable.
Meantime he will be walking to work.
“I am going to ride a couple more times today, but it is going to be a bummer,” Packer lamented.