Pronto One Month Update; Bikeshare is a ‘Gateway Drug’

Pronto general manager Demi Allen and SDOT director Scott Kubly lead the inaugural Pronto Ride along 2nd Avenue’s new protected bike lane. – SeattlePi

We are officially one month and over 10,000 rides into a Seattle filled with bikeshare thanks to Pronto Cycle Share, the new system introduced to Seattle on October 13th. The system is operated by Alta Bicycle Share, the same company that operates similar systems in D.C., New York, Boston, Chicago, and more. Bikeshare is a relatively new concept in the United States but with over 50 systems across the country, including those on major university campuses, bikeshare is becoming a standard for sustainable mobility. The global community has already embraced bikeshare, with over 600 systems around the world. So, what does Pronto mean for Seattle?

“Bikeshare is the gateway drug” said Seattle Department of Transportation’s new director Scott Kubly at a recent UW event. And it certainly seems to be true: people who typically do not ride bicycles have been testing the waters with Pronto. During my time as a Brand Ambassador working the stations during launch week a number of people from nearby businesses came out to ask me about the system. Some tried it on launch day, others waited to think about their commute and stations locations. But most shared a common thread: they saw Pronto as a way to reduce the time and stress of their daily commute.

One rider that stands out in my memory is a young professional working near McGraw Square. His usual commute is a long, slow bus ride in rush hour traffic to the ferry. With a Pronto station just outside his office and another at the ferry terminal I barely explained the basic concept before he was asking how to sign up. As I guided him through the process it was clear that neither bike love nor environmentalism spurred his enthusiasm. This guy just wanted to get home! I watched as he rode off in a full suit and tie, briefcase loaded on his Pronto bike, happily bypassing gridlocked 5 o’clock congestion. Problem solved.

So far Pronto has been successful despite launching just as the rainy season kicked into effect. Launch day began with Pronto employees and the Mayor leading an inaugural ride from 2nd & University to Pioneer Square. After a launch celebration at Pioneer Square founding members were given a unique opportunity: group rides led by Cascade ride leaders. Each ride took founding members to activate stations around the city and thereby launch the system. And they went home with some extra swag.Launch day was a success and by the end of launch week Pronto recorded over 4,000 rides and had 1,450 subscribed annual members.

Where are rides happening? Most rides are happening within individual neighborhoods, which Pronto’s executive director Holly Houser said was expected. With relatively flat neighborhoods separated by hills it makes sense that many people will use the system for short trips across their neighborhood. Capitol Hill was popular the first week with about 42% of the 500 daily rides starting or ending in Capitol Hill.

Launch week data from Capitol Hill. Image courtesy of Capitol Hill Seattle.

Rebalancer Patrick Mulligan moves bikes as necessary to keep the stations balanced.

Rebalancer Patrick Mulligan moves bikes as necessary to keep the stations balanced.

However, Pronto riders are also using the system to travel between neighborhoods. Riding uphill is a challenge some users choose to avoid but getting downtown from the surrounding neighborhoods is easy and almost always faster than transit. With this trend Pronto relies on rebalancers like Patrick Mulligan to pull bikes from almost-full stations downtown and bring them back up the hill. “There’s definitely going to be some people who want to come from this more residential area down towards where some of the local bars are, where you can pick up groceries at” says Patrick in an interview with KPLU. If this seems hassle-some to you, consider this: these one-way trips are saving the riders time, reducing road congestion and opening parking by reducing demand, and freeing space on already-full bus routes.

10,000 rides and counting. Keep an eye out for more stats soon!

10,000 rides and counting. Keep an eye out for more stats soon!

Yesterday, Pronto reached a landmark 10,000 rides! I was unable to get more detailed information at this time, but keep an eye out for more detailed data from Pronto (@CyclePronto | Prontocycleshare.com | Facebook). EDIT: Pronto just released more trip data. As Pronto expands to new areas in Seattle its appeal will only continue to expand. My good friend Jonathan is one such example of a person who is excited to use Pronto once the stations expand to his location:

Right now I commute from Wallingford to Belltown on the bus. I do not really ride bikes much but it would be nice to be able to ride to catch a bus at UW. Or maybe even ride all the way to work down Eastlake. Once Pronto comes to Wallingford I will be able to bike it without committing to owning a bike.

With a month under its belt Pronto Cycle Share appears to be heading in the right direction. With so many millennials looking for new transportation options I certainly believe Pronto will add more bikes to the road and introduce more people to the utilitarian appeal of cycling in Seattle. SDOT director Scot Kubly is familiar with bikeshare having helped launch CaBi in D.C. and Divvy in Chicago. He’s not worried about slow adopters – once people realize Pronto’s potential it will boom. He has perhaps the best analogy I have heard yet:

It is not uncommon for a slow start to bikeshare – we have seen it before. But once people realize the value of bikeshare numbers jump fast. Bikeshare is like an umbrella that is always with you. When the rain comes the umbrella is there to keep you dry. When the rain stops you put it away and don’t worry about it until the rain comes again.

Pronto bikes are not the fastest or the best for all situations, but they are affordable, convenient, and most importantly always at your disposal. I love the irony of Kubly’s umbrella analogy in a city that identifies tourists by their umbrellas. But, like Kubly, Pronto is here to stay. #GoPronto!

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2 thoughts on “Pronto One Month Update; Bikeshare is a ‘Gateway Drug’

  1. Fascinating, and good work! I am decidedly not a cyclist but took my first Capitol Hill bike ride earlier this month on Pronto: both the experience of getting the day pass and the ride itself were good, even uphill in the rain at 8pm.

    re: the data, I am proud that my home station is both popular AND self-rebalancing!

    Reply
    • @7zl: I am glad you had a good experience! A lot of other people who identify with “decidely not a cyclist” are also enjoying Pronto’s convenience. Check out the annual membership, it’s a steal.

      Reply

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