Last month the city of Seattle ripped the wheels off the city-wide bike sharing program Pronto! In addition, they even canned the idea of an e-bike replacement program. Sadly enough I was a proud Pronto Member their entire existence, having learned to appreciate the usefulness of such a program in Tel Aviv, where their bike share program “Tel-O-Fun” is a rousing success. Granted the climate is just slightly different between our two cities, but why couldn’t Pronto work in our bike obsessed city? Considering I don’t feel that bike ownership and bike-sharing programs really do affect one another, and the fact that with bike sharing you don’t have to be concerned about bike theft, why in the world couldn’t we as a city have done a better job in implementing Pronto to avoid this colossal blunder?
Some point to the answer as being a structural, political, regulatory and geographical series of issues, but I have one very good insight as to why we will no longer be able to claim title to being one of the greenest cities in the country with an eco-friendly transit culture….the bikes themselves were positively horrible, specifically for the topography of our city. Low ridership was also the result of having too few stations, I mean not having a Pronto station at Greenlake? You must be kidding. I mean no one is going to rent a bike for the day if they cannot even find a bloody station in Freemont of all places!
The complete and utter mismanagement of Pronto by SDOT is embarrassing to our city, and just goes to show how our “wanna-be” green bike friendly city mentality totally overshadowed the proper planning and implementation necessary in a city with the scale of bike ridership we actually already have. Now back to my otherwise clear insight into how the bikes they chose were lacking in functionality. Anyone who rode a Proto bike noticed it had only 3 gears, was very heavy, and more importantly had a very awkward storage plate in the front of the bike instead of behind the seat. Anyone who had been to Whole Foods and wanted to bike home on a Pronto had to do their best ET impersonation which made turning of any kind heavy and unbalanced. How am I supposed to bike across town this way? How is someone who isn’t in shape already able to bike around this way?
Well now I’m going to provide a little suggestion to the fabulous SDOT folks that gave up early. DON’T SCRAP THE PROGRAM. First, find a corporate sponsor who is willing to set aside the fact that the program is now cursed with bad press and do what is right for the city. Alaska airlines is a great start, but why not bring in Tesla, Amazon, Microsoft or Starbucks? Secondly, plan a re-launch a couple of years down the road with quadruple the station coverage and lighter redesigned bikes. Finally, and most importantly, include a bike-share membership within the ORCA card membership program as well. It just may get some of those folks who would normally take a bus to get outside in the rain and pedal for goodness sakes!