Friday, March 31, 2017

The Premature Death of Pronto: Bike Share Fails in Emerald City

Today is the last day of Seattle's appalling attempt at a bike-sharing program. Dubbed "Pronto," it didn't even survive three years.

Pronto began as a public-private partnership in 2014, but in a little over a year it was declared insolvent. The city was forced to buy it in toto in March of 2016. At the beginning of this year, Mayor Ed Murray said he would kill Pronto. Today is execution day.

The week began with a spate of media coverage of this unseemly embarrassment for a city that fancies itself the capital of Cascadia, the wealthy, urban Eco-sophisticate to its more provincial cousins, Portland and Vancouver, B.C. Both Portland and Vancouver have far larger cycle-share programs in terms of numbers of bikes. To give you an idea the depths of Seattle's failure, Houston is scheduled to expand its cycle-share to 1,000 bikes by the end of the year.

The best synopsis of this Emerald City debacle I read was David Gutman's piece in the Seattle Times:
Bike shares are booming in the United States. In 2010 the nation had only four bike-share systems, which accounted for about 300,000 total rides, according to data from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
Last year there were 55 bike-share programs and more than 28 million total rides.
Total ridership nationwide has increased nearly 60 percent since Pronto launched in 2014.
But it’s been a different story in Seattle.
Pronto launched in fall 2014 with high hopes, a $2.5 million private sponsorship and $1.75 million in state and federal money. 
But it had to deal with a challenging environment — a hilly, rainy city with a mandatory helmet law and a downtown area clogged with traffic and with few protected bikeways.

Ridership lagged.
Within a year, city officials were pushing to take over the bike-share system, which had been owned by a nonprofit.

Scott Kubly, the city’s transportation director, argued that a city takeover would allow Seattle to build a bigger, broader network that would attract more riders. In January 2016, the city was told that Pronto was insolvent and would shut down if the city didn’t buy it. The city complied in March 2016, buying Pronto for $1.4 million. 
Kubly, in his previous job, had been president of the company that operated Pronto. He later admitted to an ethics violation and agreed to a $10,000 settlement for failing to get an ethics waiver or recuse himself from the city’s launch and purchase of Pronto. 
After the city’s purchase, Pronto never significantly expanded its network. It still had the same number of bikes it did at its launch and had added only four more docking stations. 
Still, as recently as December, the city seemed ready to make significant new investments — by buying a whole new fleet of 1,200 electric bikes and 100 new docking stations — to transform the system. 
In January, Mayor Ed Murray announced that he was changing course. He scrapped Pronto and said the $3 million that had been budgeted to the bike share would be used for pedestrian and bike projects such as improving crosswalks at schools and adding bike lanes.
The brittle, sneering, "hipper-than-thou" weekly, The Stranger, attempted to spin the demise of Pronto as a triumph of pedestrian commuting. But that's just bullshit.

I think 20 years ago it would have been impossible for the city, corruption and all, to have fucked-up a cycle-share program (even if all the bikes were latrine green and plastered with the Alaska Airlines corporate logo). Neighborhoods that surrounded downtown still housed young people of very modest means.

Thinking about this, I went online to see if the local chapter of Critical Mass was still active. Apparently not.

Now the median price of a home in Seattle is over $600,000, and I imagine a home costs much more in one of the neighborhoods, like mine, that is very close to downtown. On the northern perimeter of the downtown retail core Amazon is constructing a corporate Oz. High rises are sprouting like toadstools.

My neighborhood, which for many years was part LBGTQ-Grunge rocker-old-Hippie enclave, part old money surrounding the Olmsted Brothers designed public park, is now the bedroom community for young Amazon digerati.

Leaving my apartment building for work one morning I passed a young man in the latest gear -- nice black running pants, stylish long-sleeve Arcteryx shirt with zippered collar -- coming back from a run. He looked like someone in fashion magazine. He casually greeted a beautiful young blond woman who was just exiting the entrance to the building opposite my own. She was so pretty and tastefully dressed I started thinking of the Kinks song. She said to the young man, "I quit my job yesterday. I'm going to freelance."

Just like that. Like I was in New York City.

But it is not New York. Because if it were we would have a successful bike-share program.

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