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Pronto bikeshare has been open for two days now, and so far I’ve just been watching it and deciding how much to use it. I knew it was coming to town but I never expected a station practically at my front door (Bellevue & Pine). So I have a convenient station, hooray. But when I look at other nearby stations I could ride to, they’re the same trips that have the most frequent bus service. So why bother? It’s more likely to attract people who don’t like buses than me with a bus pass. Especially if I’d have to pay $10 a day when I’d only use it once or twice that day. What I’d more use it for is longer trips that require a bus transfer, but the one I’d most frequently do is to Children’s hospital and back, and that’s beyond the 30-minute limit so I’d have to pay $2 extra per trip (even if I had an annual pass). Again no thanks, at least more than occasionally. I suppose I could “transfer bikes” along the way to get another 30 minutes, if it let me.

But another more promising use occurred to me this afternoon. When University Link opens I’ll be halfway between two Link stations, and Convention Place Station will close soon after.¬† I’ve been wondering what to then, whether to stay where I am or move closer to a Link station. Some people point out that if Link had stations at Bellevue, 15th, 23rd, and Montlake, it could completely replace the 43. But it won’t. Normally now when I go to Westlake I take a Pine Street bus, or if I’m too impatient I walk. But with Pronto I could take a bike down to the Link station.

And that may become one of Pronto’s most widespread uses, to extend the reach of Link stations and fill in the “missing” stations. Some would say, “That’s nice, but they should have put in those extra Link stations in the first place.” But a bikeshare station costs 1/1000 as much as an underground Link station, and nobody has said where the money for those stations would have come from or how we would have gotten voters to approve them. People are more willing to vote for more stations now that Link is open, than they were beforehand. That’s the tradeoff of being the first line. But in any case, Pronto could end up being a way to fill in for those stations, if it eventually adds bike stations in those areas.

11 Replies to “Thoughts on Pronto”

  1. I tried using Pronto yesterday, because I work in Kirkland and now live just outside of walking range to a 255 stop but pretty close to a Pronto station.

    The particular locations of 255 stops, Pronto stations, and where I live makes it more useful for me on the way home — I can get off at Stewart and Yale, walk across Denny, and have a relatively pleasant ride west across SLU. On the other hand, the street network near where I live does me no favors — if I can’t dock at Dexter/Aloha I have to cross either Mercer or Westlake (which takes a while with their super-long light cycles, even when there isn’t much traffic) to find another station, then cross again on my way back, eating into the time advantage over other modes.

  2. Exactly — I am located near the same bikestand, and haven’t bought my membership just yet (mostly because I am not yet convinced that I will not DIE on one of these bikes, despite having ridden Hubway successfully in Cambridge, MA, where drivers are reputed to be assholes [but were unbelievably kind and tolerant to my 0-level biking skills]).

    I think my main use case will be rolling down to Convention Place / Westlake, and maybe the occasional sojourn back from the U-District.

    I am eagerly awaiting the ‘ takes a Pronto up Denny” YouTube videos.

  3. “Some people point out that if Link had stations at Bellevue, 15th, 23rd, and Montlake, it could completely replace the 43.”

    I’d love to hear more about this, was there ever any serious thought to making the University Link subway more like a real subway with more stations (other than the cancelled First Hill station)? Ive been recently wondering why there wasn’t a station located around Pike/Bellevue where the line goes under anyway and the craziness of only having one station for Capitol Hill.

      1. Very early versions roughly mirrored the 49, rather than the 43, and had 3 stops on Capitol Hill and a better-located UW stop at the southwest of the campus.

        Not a flawless plan, but a whole lot better than we’re getting.

      2. I think the UW nixed the idea of a station at the southwest side of campus (maybe because a tunnel would mess with the physics work). It is a pity, since a station around Campus Parkway makes a lot of sense (for so many reasons).

      3. RossB,
        It wasn’t the UW that killed the SW campus station (at Pacific and 15th) it was the mud under Portage Bay and 2 deep mined stations.

        ST was all set to build to 45th & 15th but the bid came in much higher than expected. There was also much technical risk therefore risk of cost overruns and schedule slip.

        In the ensuing fracas Joni Earl became agency director.

        Sound Transit decided to build to TIBS first rather than 45th. The alignment for reaching the UW was re-examined. Montlake was chosen to reduce tunneling risk and to keep from having to build mined stations. The initial location for the UW station was Rainier Vista but the UW nixed the idea and pushed the tunnel & station further away from science and engineering labs.

        The good news is the station in the NW U-District ended up in a better spot at Brooklyn & 45th rather than 15th & 45th in the Burke Museum parking lot.

      4. Thanks Chris, for the clarification. I appreciate it. What you said makes a lot more sense, too, now that I think about it.

  4. Anyway, Mike, when deciding whether to use bikeshare as a resident (rather than as a tourist), the operative question is whether the coverage area intersects with your general mobility needs well enough to justify the $85/year.

    If it does, then buying a membership becomes a no-brainer. You’re only bumping up your annual transit costs by the equivalent of one month’s (way overpriced for its deficiencies) bus pass. In return, the bikes are there for you to use, instantly, on a permanent basis.

    You’ll immediately find yourself using them for trips you never imagined wanting them, because it will no longer make sense to wait for that Seattle’s-definition-of-frequent bus to make a very short trip. This will especially be true for trips that neither begin nor end at home or work. Multi-part errands — the kind that Metro’s crappiness has long found you writing off — will suddenly become easy and commonplace.

    On the other hand, if Pronto’s highly arbitrary coverage area is useless to your needs, then you won’t be able to justify the annual fee, and will instead keep waiting for a good excuse to short-term it, which might never come.

    This is why a sensible, non-gerrymandered-by-sponsors coverage area is so crucial to the success of a bikeshare program. It’s also why the helmet law is and will forever remain the great underminer: to justify the fee, your expectation of spontaneous availability with no additional foresight must be total.

    (Source: experience. Every time I’ve been in Boston the last three years, I buy a weekly T pass, but then I “borrow” a family member’s bikeshare fob and wind up using it 3x as often as I use the T. Unlimited bikeshare can be that much easier than even the most frequent transit. By contrast, all of my normal host friends/family in Brooklyn live outside of the arbitrary coverage boundary, and no one has a fob to borrow, and neither I or they have yet been able to justify a short-term expenditure for a system with noticeably less practicality than the subway.)

  5. One thing that would help is if the pricing system of Pronto integrated better with Metro. It’s not so bad if you have both a bus pass and a Pronto membership, especially if the costs of each are reduced by employer subsidies, but if you don’t use both systems individually frequent enough to justify the pass, multi-modal trips can become quite expensive. For example, if you have a Pronto membership, but no bus pass, the $2.50 bus fare costs more than the fee for holding a Pronto bike beyond 30 minutes. If you have only the bus pass, a single-day Pronto membership for one trips seems almost never justified. For the length of a typical Pronto trip, that same amount of money would buy you a ride in a taxi.

    That said, I do have both the bus pass and the Pronto membership and I tried it out Saturday for the first time, from the U-district to REI, and was quite satisfied. (I almost rode it again from downtown to the South Lake Union Whole Foods, but when I realized that the trip would require a ridiculous detour to avoid the streetcar tracks, I figured it would be easier and faster to just walk instead. The silly streetcar, in spite of running almost door to door between my origin and destination points, was not even worth considering).

  6. I agree, Mike. For a lot of cities, bike share rarely works like that. People use bike share to get from a couple relatively close destinations (like work to a cafe). But they don’t use it to extend the reach of the subway, since the subway already does a good job. But Seattle doesn’t have a very thorough subway, and won’t for a long while, if ever. I can think of several really popular routes, just for Husky Stadium:

    1) Husky Stadium to Highway 520. This is flat (once you reach the surface) and just long enough to justify the hassle of bike sharing.

    2) Husky Stadium to Fremont. This is a ways for a bikeshare bike to travel, but really flat and really safe. I would much rather ride three miles on the Burke Gilman than three blocks downtown.

    3) Husky Stadium to 15th NE. This won’t be necessary once Link goes to the U-District, but until then it would provide the connection with the 71, 72, 73 type buses and light rail.

    As with all bike sharing, once you add the stations, other combinations make sense. For example, I would use the bikeshare tomorrow if there were stations on 15th NE and in Fremont. I would ride the 73, then ride a bike to Fremont. That used to be my commute, back when I knew someone who hooked me up with a bike locker on campus. It was a pretty good way to go, except for the fact that the 73 was so terribly inconsistent after 6:00 PM.

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