After my piece yesterday regarding Seattle’s choice for a new bike share vendor, I spoke with Andrew Glass Hastings, who runs SDOT’s transit division. Glass Hastings has been deeply involved with the procurement process to date and provided some great insights about the state of negotiations with Bewegen, the preferred vendor, as well as SDOT’s overall vision for the new bike share service. A few themes emerged from our conversation.
- SDOT views bike share as a compliment to transit, not a tourist service.
Glass Hastings was emphatic that SDOT is seeking to build a service that can be an integrated part of the transit network. He cited Pronto’s recent decision to move a station next to the UW light rail station, which resulted in a 10x increase in usage, as evidence of the transit-focused approach.
- Station density is key
A dense mesh of stations is required to make bike share work as transit. SDOT gets this and while they may not hit 1,000-foot station spacing like New York, they are committed to a much higher station density than Pronto. Station locations in the proposals I linked to represent a first guess, but one that will likely change over time. If you’re like me, you’re wondering how we can increase station density with a fixed number of bikes. Well, that’s because…
- The service area is also provisional
SDOT is committed to serving the core downtown-adjacent networks and fanning out as funds become available, but not at the expense of diluting the overall station density. The precise boundary will be driven by the amount of sponsorship money received, which will in turn drive the number of bikes and stations the city can afford. Glass-Hastings was also clear that sponsors would provide capital and branding, but would not drive service area decisions, as was the case with Pronto.
- Electric is a must-have
I said electric bikes were a gamble on the future, and they are, but Glass Hastings noted that many systems are moving to electric – pedal assist – bikes right now. Seattle won’t be an outlier in a few years. He also noted that, right or wrong, there’s a strong feeling throughout the city that a lack of pedal-assist is what’s preventing success. In other words: most people feel that it’s not the weather holding bike share back; it’s the hills. Additionally, the power requirements to charge the bikes aren’t prohibitive. The stations can draw power from modest power sources like a street light.
- The financial relationship will be very different this time
For various reasons, bike share is the only form of public transit that’s expected to be fiscally break-even. That means getting the incentives right for a public-private partnership so no one is left holding the bag. The city & sponsors are providing the up front capital, but the vendor is on the hook to make the ridership and operations profitable.
Overall I’m reminded of an important bit of advice I learned in my years as a consultant: the client never accepts the proposal as-is. The proposal is the start, not the end, of a negotiation. When the new system is up and running next year, it will look quite different from what’s on paper today.