There are better ways to spend $5 million right now than on the purchase of bicycles for the underused Pronto bike-share program.
BIKE sharing is one option to get around parts of urban Seattle. But the year-old nonprofit system run by Pronto is not used enough to justify a costly expansion and takeover by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
The agency applied last June for a $10 million federal grant, which would require a $5 million investment from the city’s general fund. Mayor Ed Murray tucked that request into his September budget proposal. The City Council will hold a budget hearing Tuesday evening.
Trying to turn the bike-share system from an amenity into a form of mass transit is a lofty goal, but it would not be the best use of limited dollars.
Seattle has too many other problems that also need solutions and investment.
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People, particularly tourists, won’t rent bikes to ride around if they don’t feel safe from crime or dangerous roads.
Even seasoned cyclists in Seattle say it’s challenging to navigate city streets that have little room or amenities for biking. Funds would be better spent completing the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.
Part of the city’s federal application argues that expanding bike-share access around two community colleges would help expand the service to lower-income areas, reducing inequities. Yet the proposed system at South Seattle College would not cover areas south of campus where there are high concentrations of students living in poorer neighborhoods.
Pronto’s 50 stations and 500 bicycles are currently limited to a central business district that includes Capitol Hill, downtown Seattle and the University of Washington. Ridership has been low — around one trip per bike per day in the non-summer months.
SDOT Director Scott Kubly is certain that scaling up and purchasing electric bikes would improve those numbers. Interestingly, he is also the former head of Alta Bicycle Share, the company now known as Motivate, which also operates Pronto. (He says there are no ethical conflicts.)
While Kubly makes a good point that scaling up has increased bike-share usage in other cities, Seattle does not enjoy the relatively flat terrain of Washington, D.C., Houston or Chicago.
A massive expansion of the bike-share system can wait.
SDOT needs to prioritize more immediate problems. The city should not take over Pronto’s operations without fully explaining to taxpayers what they are getting in return.