Seattle’s troubled bike-share program died quietly last Friday — and city officials didn’t waste much ink eulogizing it.
“City announces $3 million in bicycle and pedestrian improvements,” a press release published on Jan. 13 announced. Read a little further, however, and you get to the critical death-knell: “The funding for these new projects is derived from funding previously allocated to the 2017 relaunch of the city’s bike-share program. It will instead be invested in safety improvement projects and expanding the city’s bicycle and pedestrian network. Pronto, the city’s current bike-share service, will end March 31.”
To be fair, Pronto’s demise isn’t a shock. In November, City Council approved several amendments to Mayor Ed Murray’s 2017-18 budget related to the public bike-share — basically, it was given enough funding to run through the first quarter of 2017.
But city officials had planned to roll out a new system to replace it. With redirection of funds into new infrastructure improvements, the city won’t be moving forward with its previous plan — part of an agreement with Quebec-based Bewegen — to put electric bikes on Seattle’s streets, according to the Seattle Times. The mayor did, however, seem to “leave the door open to the possibility of the city hosting a private or partly private system,” according to the paper.
Pronto launched in October of 2014 under nonprofit ownership with sponsorship from Alaska Airlines. When it launched, it was composed of 500 bikes with 50 stations, mostly in the downtown area. Last year, however, the city bought the system for $1.4 million after membership and ridership took a dive.
Several city council members, including Tim Burgess, have been fierce critics of Pronto. “[O]ur experience with Pronto has been very negative,” Burgess told Next City last November. “Membership and ridership continues to decline. The city is losing money.”
Despite the appearance of no love lost between Pronto and city government, bike advocates are mourning the fact that Seattle can’t seem to pull a public bike-share off. Tom Fucoloro, editor of Seattle Bike Blog, pointed out to the Seattle Times that Portland and Vancouver, B.C., seem to be moving forward.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “Seattle was the only one of the three that had a system, and now it will be the only one that doesn’t.”
For now, the funding that would have gone to a replacement will be spent on the following projects:
- Adding pedestrian safety improvements, including traffic calming and crosswalk improvements, at 19 schools through the Safe Routes to School Program
- Completing a missing link of the Fourth Avenue bicycle lane and extension to Vine Street
- Accelerating design and outreach for the east/west connections in the Center City bicycle network
- Improving accessibility in Pioneer Square by adding curb ramps at key locations
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.