Why Investing in Bike-Share Matters



I have received many messages from constituents both urging me to refrain from ‘bailing out’ Pronto, as well as to save our city’s bike-share program. And while I want to confirm that I take all communications I receive to heart, I also want to widen the narrow scope through which this issue is being viewed and explain why I am choosing to support Pronto.

Based on the issues Pronto encountered during their startup phase, many have made the assumption that this decision is an easy one – ‘why spend money on a sinking ship?’ However, the fact that is not as widely known is that at the end of the day, Seattle City Council will spend at least $1 million dollars no matter the decision: either we spend $1.4M to acquire Pronto’s assets – and hold significant leverage on what an expansion of bike-share would encompass – OR we let Pronto fail and repay a $1M Federal Grant contingent upon Pronto’s active operations.

Many argue that we shouldn’t subsidize Pronto, but governments at all levels subsidize nearly all other means of transportation, including cars, buses, trains, and airplanes. Others argue that the private market could meet our bike-share needs on its own, as it does in cities like New York, Miami Beach, and San Francisco. Private programs however, are often concentrated in small, tourist-driven geographic areas – meaning city residents, especially those in low-income areas, do not have access. Bike-share and associated infrastructure should not be relegated to an attraction for cycle-inclined tourists; this is an investment to increase the transportation choices this city offers to residents.

With our recent investment in multi-modal infrastructure with the Move Seattle levy, we have the opportunity to sustain a safe, reliable, and healthy mode of transportation to utilize our investments – all for roughly $400K, or what King County Metro spends in about 2.5 hours. Pronto’s revenues from ridership and advertisements are nearly breakeven, and a recent survey of Pronto members indicated a need for more stations, higher station density, and a larger geo-footprint – the exact factors that are seen in the nation’s most successful bike share models. Is $400K a worthy investment to ensure bike-share is a key component of our long-term transportation plans as a city? The answer in my opinion is a definitive yes.

Carbon-based transportation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and bike-share represents an essential program helping Seattle meet its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. Investing in Pronto keeps this mode of transportation available to users (a base we feel confident will grow), instills confidence in a Seattle bike share system, and allows future efforts for other Seattle-based bike-share program (public or private) to qualify for critical grants and other investments.

My vision is for Pronto is to become a system that better connects existing transit infrastructure (including light rail stations set to open this month), serves residents outside of the downtown core, offers those who need it a low-income fare, has the opportunity to flatten out the city with the acquisition of electric bikes, and has the potential to connect with ORCA transit cards.

To me, the choice is clear – let’s make a modest investment that will go a long way towards meeting our goals as a city; one with equitable access to environmentally friendly bike infrastructure that serves the transportation needs of residents desperate for options to get out of gridlock.

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