Seattle City Council Votes To Bail Out Its 'Pronto' Bike Share System

Mar 15, 2016

The non-profit that set up Pronto, as it is called, will be shut down. But the city of Seattle is spending nearly $1.5 million to bail out its troubled bike share system. Seattle’s City Council voted 7-2 to pay off its debt and added in a bit more money to cover transition costs. Its days were numbered until the city stepped in to rescue it.

If you live or work in Seattle or have visited lately, you may have noticed the lime green bikes around town or the kiosks where they’re parked. But chances are you haven’t used one much. The system is insolvent and its executive director moved on months ago.

Council member Mike O’Brien, chair of the Transportation and Sustainability Committee, says more needs to be done to take what he calls “friction” out of the system, to increase ridership.

“You know, little subtle things like you get off light rail and the station’s a block away, as opposed to you get off light rail and it’s right there,” O’Brien said after leading the process that led to the 7-2 vote. He voted yes.

O’Brien, who himself relies mostly on a bike and a transit pass to get around, says they’re interested in growing the base of subscribers by improving things for people who say, “I would use it, but…” – and he says they now have a whole lot of data to help guide improvements, to better serve those folks who find it less than convenient or are on the fence but interested in trying it out if that stop were located in a slightly better spot.

As part of the new deal, the city will also focus on reaching more diverse communities. That’s due to an amendment from newcomer to the council, Lorena Gonzalez . Her suggestions led to an added $500,000 for outreach and improvements, for things like reaching low-income people who do not use credit cards, but still want to use the bikes in combination with their transit passes.   

For the council, the next step is a competitive bidding process aimed at getting entrepreneurial help and new sponsorships.

The two nay votes came from council members who said they wanted to hold the city and its public coffers to a higher standard. 

Council member Tim Burgess, who chairs the city’s budget committee, led that charge. He says bike shares are successful in many cities around the country, but this one has not been working. He would have preferred to start from scratch. 

“I did not view today’s vote as bicycles versus cars, at all. I actually support having a bike-sharing system in Seattle." Burgess said.

"But the one that we have today has failed and failed miserably – to the point that the city is being asked to rescue it from insolvency.”

Council member Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle under the city’s new district system, was the other "no" vote.