Never mind the doubters and the naysayers: Pronto Cycle Share, Seattle's 500-bike and 50-station strong bicycle share service, is doing quite well—according to Pronto Cycle Share, anyway.
"Through rain, sleet, hail (and a teeny bit of snow)," the bike share program says in a press release, "Seattle’s Pronto Cycle Share riders proved they’re made of sturdier stuff this winter." (To celebrate, they're offering a suite of discounts and prizes all week. Now's a good time to sign up.)
Bike share has 2,383 annual members (each paying $85). That's about 200 short of of Pronto's six-month goal, executive director Holly Houser said in an interview. But Pronto has racked up 7,680 day pass sales ($8 each), exceeding Pronto's projections by nearly 1,000, she said. Both those numbers are likely to shoot up with the onset of warmer, sunnier weather.
It's not every day, by the way, that the head of a multimillion-dollar public-private partnership walks you through their budget numbers. But Houser affably did just that:
Pronto costs about $110,000 per month to operate, she explained. The hope is for it to be self-sustaining in a few years. (Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly called it "one of the smartest investments a city can make in transportation."
For now, the membership and day pass sales help cover Pronto's costs, but user fees—when Pronto users go over the allowed 30 minutes for a trip—make up one of its largest sources of revenue, Houser said. The goal is for sales and fees to cover about 75 percent of operating costs, and they're almost at that level.
What about the other 25 percent? Pronto wants to cover it with station sponsorships. There are a few of these already—bike share stations branded to represent REI or Group Health—but Pronto wants to sell more of them. Seattle's strict regulations on advertising in rights of way make that endeavor more difficult for Pronto than for bike share programs in other cities, Houser told me.
And remember the untested electronic helmet dispenser Pronto was planning to use in order to comply with King County's all-ages helmet law? Yeah, that plan's been scrapped. Bins full of free helmets were billed as a temporary solution when the service launched, because the dispensers weren't ready. Houser said their permanent solution will be to simply add keypads to those bins and offer codes to members.
But in the long term, Pronto's hoping for a major corporate underwriter to sink in $1 million or more. Bike share in Seattle struggled for years to get off the ground in the absence of a major sponsorship deal. Alaska Airlines finally stepped up, last year, with $2.5 million.
"Neighborhoods like Fremont are chomping at the bit to get bike share," Houser said. "The demand exists, and we're not able to expand to meet the demand... it's one of those things where we need more money to add more stations before we see that gap start to close."
"We're doing as well as we can," Houser said. "We're doing pretty well. Do we have funding gaps? Yes. But we're confident that we can find partners."