Seattle director not giving up on bike share despite federal rejection

Dec 7, 2015, 7:47 AM | Updated: 8:38 am
The City of Seattle is strongly considering taking over the citywide bike share program, Pronto. (A...
The City of Seattle is strongly considering taking over the citywide bike share program, Pronto. (AP)
(AP)

The City of Seattle is strongly considering taking over the citywide bike share program, Pronto.

The Seattle Department of Transportation may present a business proposal to the city council this week.

The city hoped for a $10 million grant to help fund Pronto’s expansion. But last month, the feds said no.

Related: Why was Seattle denied federal funds to expand bike sharing?

Critics say the city overshoots its financial predictions and did so in the federal proposal. They also say the Pronto program, with 50 stations around Seattle, is already underused, so growing it is too expensive.

Nicole Freedman, Seattle’s first active transportation director, is focusing on increasing pedestrian and bicycle transit. Freedman, who implemented Boston’s bike share program before coming to Seattle, says you have to expand bike sharing to get it to work.

“If you’re talking about public transit, it would be a train station that has three stops,” Freedman said. The full-size [bike share] system for Seattle would be well over 250 stations, about five times as big.

She says that means more people will have options by their home and work.

“Right now, the system is primarily downtown but most people need to get to downtown or from downtown … so expanding that increases the origin destination combination,” she said.

Freedman is preparing the business plan to present to the city council. She says her data shows that the bike share program as it stands now has a 50 percent recovery rate. That means 50 percent of Pronto’s operating costs are covered by user fares and member fees. Once Pronto’s debt is paid off, that number is expected to shoot up to 80 percent.

However, that 80 percent assumes sponsorship will continue. Freedman says sponsorships tend to be easy to get for high-visibility bike share programs.

Overall, Freedman believes the bike share program is financially solid.

“When Seattle grows to the size of peer cities, it’s going to be a very financially viable system,” she said. “Peer cities are well over 100 percent on their recover rate and over 80 percent is not a big gap. You look at most public transit and you’re lucky to recover 40 percent.”

Will the city council agree and give $5 million? That’s the next step.

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Seattle director not giving up on bike share despite federal rejection