Investing in Bike Share – Public Ownership, Public Accountability

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In October 2014 Seattle joined many other municipalities in welcoming bike share as a component of our public transit system. One hundred and forty thousand rides later, the bike share program Pronto continues to grow, but now requires a public investment to continue operations and to expand its network.  We faced a decision to either make this investment and maintain existing service or allow the system to cease operations with the possibility of starting a new system in the future.

Throughout the last few weeks, I have received many messages from constituents both asking me to support bike share as well as to let the current program dissolve. All of your communications are extremely important to me and I use your thoughts to help guide my decision. I would like to highlight my own thoughts and explain why I am choosing to support public ownership of Pronto, with greater public oversight.

Pronto currently has 3,000 members who utilize bike share to get around. Through public testimony and constituent messages, it has become very clear to me that bike share is essential to many Seattle residents. A robust bike share system has succeeded with public investment in many cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., to name a few. Some have suggested that bike share should be operated by a private company. Only one municipality has a completely private system – New York City – which is sustained through a massively larger population, high usage by tourists, and a distinctly concentrated network in the wealthier areas of the City. I have serious concerns that a completely privatized program in Seattle would be similarly focused and only serve higher income neighborhoods. In contrast, a public system that incorporates community input will result in a more sustainable and equitable system for our city, and will complement our burgeoning public transportation network of bus and light rail.

Now that the city has recommitted to our bike share system through this investment, here are some improvements I expect to see in the remainder of 2016:

  • Repositioning some of the stations to better serve the needs of existing and potential users. Ensuring that stations are both visible and accessible is a key to success and with over a year’s worth of data I expect some underperforming stations will be moved to better locations.
  • Coordinating existing service with new light rail infrastructure. This weekend new light rail stations open on Capitol Hill and at Husky Stadium.  While both have Pronto stations within a few blocks, there are opportunities to work with Sound Transit to reposition bike stations closer to the light rail stations.
  • Increased marketing efforts.  Now that the uncertainty about the future of bike share has been removed and warm weather is just around the corner, promotion of the existing system will increase and hopefully attract new users.
  • Better access for low income riders.  While a low income program currently exists, it can be expanded to coordinate with other low income transportation resources, such as the ORCA Lift program and discounted car-share options.

As we look to expand the system in 2017, you can expect to see more stations and more bikes, which means both better access in the areas currently served by Pronto and a reach into new neighborhoods.  A bigger network will mean many new opportunities for people to use the system.  This will also be an opportunity to streamline membership through a shared ORCA card, design the system to better work for low income communities and people whose first language isn’t English, and possibly employ newer technologies such as electric assist bikes.

I continue to appreciate the comments and agree with some of the critiques of Pronto and I have heard a call for greater public oversight. At the Full Council meeting yesterday, I sponsored an amendment that calls for more Council input in evaluating the request for proposals, so that we can better ensure the ideas above come to fruition.

Public ownership of bike share is an exciting proposition. I am choosing to build upon our current base of 3,000 Pronto members and our bike sharing infrastructure, and I sincerely believe that with our support bike share will expand, increase membership, and continue to be an integral piece of our transit system. All other modes of transportation have experienced similar growing pains. Now is the time for us to invest in this mode of sustainable transportation.

In Community,