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After a ‘disaster’ of an experience, Seattle buries bike share

Say goodbye to the Pronto! bike-share program in Seattle. (AP)

March 31 will mark the end of a contentious program that has been marred by problems since it began operating two years ago in Seattle.

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The bike-share program Pronto! will shut down after city leaders opted to spend the money elsewhere and cease their pursuit of a new system.

It’s a program that has struggled since it began operating in October of 2014.

During its first year, Pronto! under-performed. First-year projections estimated the total trips at 446,000. Instead, only 142,846 trips were taken, according to city data. That breaks down to 0.78 trips per bike.

The only bright spot for the program during its first year was that casual ridership was well above projections, garnering 33,000 riders opposed to the projected 20,500.

However, it was found that the program’s parent company, Motivate, overestimated the membership. Originally reported as 3,000, membership was closer to 1,900.

Total revenue came in at $613,000 during the first year, according to the city. Projected revenue was $860,000.

Despite a troubled first year, the city stuck with it.

The Seattle City Council voted in March 2016 to buy the program for what was originally thought to be $1.4 million. That price tag turned out to be higher after it was discovered the Seattle Department of Transportation used $305,000 to pay for the program’s operating costs while it was still being operated by Motivate. The payment was not disclosed for weeks.

In addition to the financial issues, it was later announced that SDOT Director Scott Kubly violated two ethics rules.

But the city pushed on and even planned to slowly expand the number of stations throughout the city — it was argued that the program couldn’t grow without increasing the offering outside of downtown and the Central District.

In September of this year, it was reported that the city selected a vendor to completely replace Pronto!’s fleet with electric-assist bicycles to the tune of $5 million.

“Some people look at it and say, ‘You’re throwing good money after bad.’ How do you respond to that?” KIRO 7 asked SDOT’s Transportation and Mobility Director Andrew Glass Hastings.

“I’d say, give us a chance to see if we can come to a contract that really resets bike share in Seattle,” he said.

Well, that didn’t happen and Mayor Ed Murray announced in January that the $3 million earmarked for program expansion would be used for safety projects.

The theories behind bike share ridership being so low have varied. Some argue Seattle simply has too many hills for more casual riders to hop on. Others blame Seattle’s helmet law.

Councilmember Tim Burgess may have summed it up best when he was reported by The Seattle Times as saying, “Our experience with the Pronto … program has been a disaster.”

Earlier this month, it was reported by the Capitol Hill Times that after Pronto! shuts down, the city will undergo a two-week decommissioning process. That will begin on April 3.

Of course, everyone has a chance to use the program over the next few days. You can even buy a special membership for $10 until the service ends on Friday.

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