Today, if you walk down the streets of Seattle, Washington you will quickly see a handful of colorful bikes parked tandem. At first glance you may think, “Who in their right mind would leave their bike unlocked and unattended on the side of the street?” But if you’re a local you are well aware these yellow, green, and orange bikes are a part of the growing bike share market. They tout being dock less – meaning you can park them on the side of any street in the city. Low cost and easy payments – $1 for 30 minutes and you can load credits via the app on your phone. Find them anywhere – app that allows you to see where unused bikes are in real time. The app design was clean and direct. I was able to rent my first bike in minutes with no confusion or assistance.
With most new business models there are some growing pains as regulations are slow to keep up. For example, popular tourist areas are flooded with these things as there are no rules/ limits on how many can be parked in a set area. Walking to the space needle is like an obstacle course. Overall number of bikes in circulation has not been limited by the city. Although the companies all specify that bikes should be parked on the side of the walkway, many can be found in the middle of the street and sidewalks. Some have even been found floating in the lake!
Even with a few of these negative elements, I can say from both personal public opinion they are very welcome in our community. This is because what we have now is much better than its predecessor: Pronto. This government run program had the look and feel similar to that of NY and Boston in that it had set docking stations and payment kiosks. It ran from 2014 – 2017 and wasted $1.4M of taxpayer dollars. A few reasons why Pronto failed:
Slow Rollout: Pronto launched with 500 bikes across 54 stations, which experts considered far too few to engage riders. “It wasn’t dense enough,” said Andrew Glass-Hastings, Transit and Mobility Director for the City of Seattle. “There weren’t enough stations and there weren’t enough bikes to attract cyclists.”
Poor Placement: Bikeshares work best as a “first mile/last mile” transit option for commuters, cycling advocates argue. The Pronto docks were too sparse and poorly placed, with none installed near a Seattle’s light rail (subway) and so few by popular public facilities.
Difficult Usage Model: Payment had to be done at a kiosk and plans were not flexible based on rider type. The payment options were aimed towards whole day riders: options for 2hr, half day, and whole day. However even with a whole day option you needed to dock at least every 2 hours and pick up a new bike. No options for quick rides. The design model for renting a bike was unnecessarily complex. The bikes were also cruiser stile which is not ideal for commuters.
I was happy to see Pronto go and private business step up and fill the customer voids that were being ignored!
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