Bike share fails in Seattle — even as it thrives in other cities

Pronto Bike station on 15th Ave NE & NE 40th St (Photo courtesy Newroz Saribas)

Bicycle share systems have been a popular option in cities around the world, including London and Vienna. Vancouver, B.C. and Portland have recently launched their own public bicycle share systems.

But here in Seattle, we’re pulling the plug.

The Seattle City Council has killed Pronto cycle share, after only 30 months of being in business. The system allowed visitors and residents to check out a bicycle for a few hours for a fee. The bikes could be returned at one of the stations located in neighborhoods near the University of Washington or near downtown.

https://secure.prontocycleshare.com/map/
Bike stations in Seattle (Photo courtesy Pronto web page).

The city decided to replace Pronto last year with an electric bike system, but earlier this month decided to end the public bike project entirely and redirect the $3 million earmarked for it toward other projects.

“While I remain optimistic about the future of bike share in Seattle, today we are focusing on a set of existing projects that will help build a safe, world-class bicycle and pedestrian network,” said Mayor Ed Murray said in a prepared statement.

There are multiple reasons why Pronto never got the ridership it needed to survive. The habits of most of Seattle’s cyclists didn’t need what Pronto offered, said Chet Merklin, the manager of the ASUW Bike Shop and an avid bike rider.

“The community of users don’t necessarily fit the design’s intended purpose,” Merklin said.

Seattle’s multiple hills can be another barrier. Although it riding downhill can be fun, inexperienced cyclists could find riding uphill to be backbreaking.

But from experience, I know how great having public bike share available can be.

While in London this past fall, my cousin and I decide to take the bike share for a spin. It would have cost us the same amount if we were to take the London Underground system. We ended up having a far better experience cycling. It was easy to cycle through the city and explore tourist attractions.

https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles
Bike Stations in London (photo courtesy Santander web page)

While London was laid out perfectly for our adventure, I can see how navigating Seattle’s hills on a bike can be difficult for a tourist — especially one with little bike riding experience.

Tourists also might find it easier to take a Lyft or Uber for approximately the same price as renting a bike. The Link Light Rail expansion also offers tourists and residents a fast and reasonably priced form of travel.

Perhaps the landscape of the city isn’t meant for a public bike share program. The price of the system here in Seattle also could be too high.

But tourists determined to see Seattle on two wheels still have options. Bicycles are available for rent from private companies such as The Bicycle Repair shop located on 68 Madison St.

Correction: A version of this story originally listed Singapore as a bike share city. Singapore’s bike share will launch this year, but has not yet launched.

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1 Comment

  1. Two words: hills, rain. San Francisco might be a valid comparison – I wonder whether they have a viable bike share program.

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