Ridership numbers for Seattle’s new private, stationless bike shares are dwarfing the old city-owned system. But the data so far only show summer months. Eastside cities are watching as they ponder bike shares.

Share story

With far more bikes serving a much broader swath of the city, Seattle’s new private, stationless bike-share companies are far outperforming the now defunct city-owned Pronto bike share, the Seattle Department of Transportation said Tuesday.

Pronto’s 500 bikes, which had to be picked up and dropped off at docking stations, were ridden, on average, just 0.7 times per day. The new, stationless bike-sharing bikes, operated by three privately owned companies, have been ridden three times as much, an average 2.2 rides per bike, per day, SDOT officials told a City Council committee.

And that average has steadily increased as the total number of shareable bikes in the city has increased, according to SDOT data.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and Seattle Children’s hospital. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

“We’re talking about bike share, and we actually have a positive story to share,” said Andrew Glass Hastings, SDOT’s director of transit and mobility.

Seattle’s reborn bike share launched in early July, with two companies limited to 500 bikes each.

The city’s limits on how many bikes the companies can scatter on city streets have gradually increased, and there are now three companies with a total of about 4,000 bikes.

The average bike usage puts Seattle behind only New York City in terms of how often shareable bikes are used in American cities, according to SDOT. New York’s Citi Bikes — a traditional, stationed bike-share program — are used an average of 3.6 times per day, SDOT said.

But, as SDOT officials noted, Seattle’s bike share launched at the ideal time and the data to date represent just two months of blue skies and 75-degree temperatures.

Looking only at the summer, Seattle’s numbers don’t look quite as sunny.

In New York, for instance, each of the city’s 8,500 Citi Bikes was used nearly seven times a day in June, a number that dwarfs Seattle’s summer usage. Seattle’s (summer-only) ridership to date is on par with the year-round ridership numbers for cities like Washington, D.C., and Boston.

Seattle is the first American city to try stationless free-floating bike shares on a broad scale.

Unlike Pronto, which operated only downtown, in Capitol Hill and in the University District, the bikes are spread throughout the city, although rides have been concentrated heavily around downtown and in neighborhoods along the Burke-Gilman Trail — Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford and the University District.

All three companies operating in Seattle work the same way — riders download a mobile app and use that to find and unlock bikes. Bikes cost $1 to ride (per hour or half-hour depending on the company) and can be left almost anywhere, within reason.

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien said that while he’d seen a few examples of bikes parked inappropriately — blocking sidewalks or curb ramps — the new system has mostly gone well.

“We certainly haven’t been overwhelmed by the bike-mageddon kind of fears,” O’Brien said.

The bike-share companies are operating on pilot permits and the city will decide at the end of the year whether to continue the programs and if there should be changes.

Cities on the Eastside are watching Seattle’s bike-share experiment, eyeing a potential expansion in their cities. Bellevue is running an online survey to try to gauge its citizens’ interest in bike-share options. And next week Bellevue, in conjunction with King County Metro, Issaquah, Kirkland and Redmond, will host an open house where private bike-share companies will answer questions and show off their bikes.

At least eight companies are likely to be at the event Sept. 27, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Bellevue City Hall.

The Eastside cities had previously explored a Pronto-like, publicly financed bike share, and King County Metro even secured $5.5 million in state funding to build the system.

But Pronto’s failure and Seattle’s success with privately funded bike shares have coincided with a change in thinking across the lake.

“We are eager to hear from them, what they find out,” Andreas Piller, an associate city planner for Bellevue, said. “We’re not exploring an option that involves city financing.”