The city of Seattle has officially taken ownership of the Pronto bike-share system and is encouraging people to sign up for discounted annual memberships. But even with city subsidies, fewer than 1 percent of city employees hold Pronto memberships.
The city of Seattle officially took ownership of the Pronto bike-share system about two weeks ago and is holding Pronto Week to encourage people to sign up for discounted annual memberships.
The city’s own employees might need some encouragement: Fewer than 1 percent of them hold memberships through a city-subsidized corporate-membership program.
Of about 13,000 city employees, 110 are Pronto members, according to figures provided by the Department of Transportation. The city subsidizes Pronto memberships for its employees, and city workers can get annual memberships for $35, which is less than half the $85 Pronto charges the public.
Bike-share facts and figures
Year founded: 2014
Bikes in the system: 500
Members (first year of operation): 3,300
Members (now): 1,874
Total rides April 2015: 12,898
Total rides April 2016: 9,087
Rides, October 2014 through October 2015: Nearly 143,000
Pronto purchase price: $1.4 million
Other bike-share programs
Minneapolis:Nice Ride MN (more than 1,700 bikes, 190 stations)
Annual membership: 5,477
City of Minneapolis members: 218
City of Minneapolis employees: About 3,800
Cost to employees: $25
Hubway (1,500 bikes, 155 stations)
Annual membership: 13,000
City of Boston members: 45
City of Boston employees: About 18,000
Cost to employees: $50
Boulder, Colo.: B-Cycle (300 bikes, 40 stations)
Annual membership: 1,690
City of Boulder members: 190
City of Boulder employees: 1,300-1,400
Cost to employees: Free
Not even Nicole Freedman, who leads the city’s biking efforts, or transportation director Scott Kubly is a Pronto member.
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“I am actually not right now,” Freedman said, declining to comment further on what she said was a “personal question.”
That makes Freedman and Kubly pretty typical of Seattleites at large.
Membership overall has lagged for Pronto. More than 3,300 people signed up for the system in its first year of operation, according to city records. But the number of annual members has fallen by nearly half. Freedman said this week that Pronto now has 1,874 members.
Ridership also has fallen. In April 2015, people took nearly 12,898 trips on Pronto bikes. Ridership last month was down about 40 percent, according to numbers provided by Freedman.
From October 2014 through October 2015, Pronto’s first year of operation, the system counted nearly 143,000 trips on its system. About 61 percent of those first-year rides were by annual members, according to Pronto data.
It’s been a tumultuous spring for Pronto. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) asked the City Council for $1.4 million, calling Pronto insolvent and saying it would close without city intervention. City Council members expressed frustration that the city had spent $305,000 to keep the bike-share system in operation without notifying the council, but ultimately chose to buy and expand the system.
Kubly is under an ethics investigation over his dealings with the company paid to run Pronto — Motivate — which had employed Kubly under a different company name. Emails show Kubly was directly involved in negotiations with his previous employerwithout a waiver from the city’s ethics commission.
In an interview last month, Kubly said he meant to disclose his potential conflict of interest when he mistakenly sent an email that addressed ethics questions to himself rather than to the mayor’s legal counsel. But months later, he continued negotiations without a waiver even after being reminded he needed one.
The city’s Pronto discount for employees is listed in the city’s employee benefits guide, and the city has twice promoted the subsidized memberships in emails broadcast to all employees, according to city email records.
As Pronto resets, Freedman said it was unfair to characterize city employees’ Pronto participation as low.
“There’s a lot of city employees that are part of the Pronto system,” she said, noting the city was one of the system’s top corporate or group members, which means the city got a discounted price.
In a brief survey of other bike-share programs, city employees’ participation in bike share seemed to vary widely along with price.
Boulder’s B-Cycle bike-share system is smaller than Pronto, but 190 Boulder employees are annual members, said Kevin Bell, the program’s marketing director. A city spokeswoman said between 1,300 and 1,400 people work for the city of Boulder. A bike-share pass is free for city employees.
The Nice Ride MN bike-share program in Minneapolis and St. Paul is more than three times the size of Pronto.
Although St. Paul does not offer group membership rates, 218 city of Minneapolis employees have a group membership, according to figures provided by the program. Casper Hill, a Minneapolis spokesman, said 3,800 employees are eligible for the subsidized program.
The city of Boston, where Freedman most recently worked, has a mature regional system similar in size to Minneapolis/St. Paul’s. But the city, which employs about 18,000 people, has only 45 of them on its city bike-share membership, according to Tracey Ganiatsos, of the Boston Transportation Department.
Philadelphia’s bike-sharing program, Indego, which launched last spring and is about the same size as Seattle’s program, does not have a corporate-membership program, according to Denise Goren, of the city’s transportation department. But it saw more than three times the number of overall rides in its first year of operation than did Pronto.
Freedman said SDOT and Pronto’s operator, Motivate, are making changes to Pronto, including moving low-performing stations to better areas. Through May 8, Pronto memberships are being sold for a discounted $6.25 a month or $63 for the year. On Monday, Pronto made another change for annual members, allowing them to ride for up to 45 minutes at no extra charge. Previously, annual members would have to pay after a half-hour.
The city plans to ask for proposals from bike-share operators to expand Pronto and possibly add electric bikes to its fleet. Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council will help select the operator because the council took that responsibility from the transportation department when it approved the city’s acquisition of Pronto.
In a February presentation to the City Council, Freedman laid out a vision for an expanded system with twice as many bikes, between 80 and 130 stations and about 8,000 members.