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Portland bike share hot out of the gate compared to Seattle’s Pronto!

Portland rolled out BikeTown in July. It is solely sponsored by Nike. (City of Portland)

Portland just rolled out its own bike-share system — BikeTown — and it’s enjoying a wealth of early membership and ridership numbers. Did the Rose City start a better bike share than the Emerald City?

Portland hired Motivate — the same company that manages Seattle’s Pronto! Bike-share system. But Portland-based shoe giant Nike put up $10 million to become BkeTown’s sole sponsor.

On July 19, Portland’s BikeTown launched with 1,000 bikes at 100 stations. BikeTown garnered 1,252 annual memberships one month before it launched (after one week, it was 1,640).

Pronto! amassed 1,154 memberships after operating for a month, according to the BikePortland.

But that’s not the only difference between the two bike shares:

• BikeTown riders traveled more than 31,000 miles on the bikes in one week — enough to travel around the globe. It took Pronto! a month to hit 22,663 miles.

• Pronto! boasted 10,747 rides after a month of operating. BikeTown, however, hit 13,402 in one week.

• The average BikeTown ride is 30 minutes, and is generally about 2 miles — based on its first-week data. Pronto! on the other hand, after a month of data, had rides lasting half of that — an average of 14.5 minutes.

To be fair to Pronto!, it started in October 2014, during a rather wet time period. BikeTown launched in July which, despite having a colder, wetter start, held pretty fair weather. Pronto! also initially sold 1,856-day passes during its first month as well.

BikeTown is also twice as big as Pronto! — thanks to Nike’s $10 million. That could be why Portland’s bike share system isn’t primarily located in neighborhoods around the downtown core — like Seattle’s is (though there is a handful of Pronto stations in the U-District). Portland also placed a considerable number of stations outside of downtown — ya know, where most folks actually live. And the kind of folks who would likely use a bike share — residents who aren’t paying hundreds for a parking stall, and who can afford thousands to live in a downtown micro-studio.

Portland’s bike share also began somewhat differently than Seattle’s. Pronto! emerged from Puget Sound Bike Share, a non-profit. The City of Seattle eventually bought it out — a controversial $1.4 million purchase. The City of Portland itself, however, took the initiative to start the bike share itself — no third party. It did so in partnership with Nike.

Different city, same problems, and a few new ones

Just like Seattle, some Portland residents feel there is a battle between bike-share stations and cherished parking spots. Twitter can testify to the frustrations of that camp. Then there is a neighborly, passive-aggressive sign battle between Portlandians debating bike shares vs. parking spots.

But BikeTown also drew some ire once people started reading through its user agreement. It seems that if you take a ride on a BikeTown bike, you waive your right to ever sue the company if anything bad happens. The Willamette Week reports that the user agreement states riders waive their right to a civil jury trial, and instead, forces them into private arbitration. BikeTown has since argued that riders don’t have to waive their rights, if they act quickly.

BikeTown, just like Pronto!, isn’t immune to vandalism either. Within days of its launch, bikes had tires slashed and were spray painted, according to The Oregonian. Pronto! bikes throughout Seattle’s University District were also vandalized. Tires and seats were slashed, and bungee cords were cut. The cost to repair the bikes ran about $1,500.

Though BikeTown’s membership numbers trump Seattle’s, it’s too soon to see if BikeTown can keep its numbers up. Pronto! also saw initial success with decent ridership and memberships. But those numbers fell, and caused controversy when falsely reported to the city.

BikeTown vs. Pronto!

Portland tried to make things a little cooler with their bike share. Their bike lanes, for example, have a bit of an edge over Seattle’s.

And the BikeTown rides also seem a bit spruced up beyond the Pronto! version. The orange bikes have a full basket for running errands. And thanks to Nike, they boast a swoosh emblem.

BikeTown bikes have a shaft drive, whereas Pronto! bikes have a chain.

And they are “smartbikes.” That means BikeTown rides come with a computer on the bike to handle all transactions. Members can use a BikeTown app to reserve bikes at stations ahead of time. A rider types in their personal code on the bike and then rides away. In contrast, the hub that locks up the bikes for Seattle’s Pronto! system takes care of the transaction.

*This article originally stated that shaft drives are more efficient than chains on a bicycle. This statement has been corrected.

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