Impressions From My First Pronto Bike Ride

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pronto-station
It is hard to see but the car next to the station has backed into the white pole acting as a barrier here.

Yesterday afternoon I took my first ride using the Pronto! Cycle Share and I took away a few observations, both expected and unexpected.

Why Use Pronto?

I expected that my first ride would be just for fun but I didn’t have an opportunity since the launch to check out a bike. Yesterday, I needed to get to South Lake Union from Capitol Hill and I was running late. It turns out the fastest mode was by bicycle. You can see my route here:

pronto-route

I planned to take my own bike but I was afraid that when I needed to leave SLU later in the evening it might be raining and I would get drenched. It is of course always an option to put your bike on the bus but occasionally the rack is full and I would still have to leave my bike out in the rain. Taking Pronto allowed me to not have to worry about my own bike while still taking the fastest option to SLU.

I already understood that allowing one way trips by bicycle would be a key benefit to the Pronto system. Prior to this ride, the only reason I thought I might need to do this was if I planned to be out drinking or was afraid of leaving my bike somewhere. It didn’t occur to me that rain would actually motivate me to use Pronto.

Planning the Ride

Before I walked to the station, I was trying to figure where I could see a map of the stations. My default choice was looking at Google Maps and this proved unsuccessful. I ended up just walking to the Pronto station and the map on the helmet locker was sufficient. After my ride, I realized that I could use both the Transit App, covered here previously, or the Pronto Website.

With that said, I spent way more time trying to figure out where to ride than I actually needed. I didn’t realize that the stations had maps and once I was at the station it was easy enough for me to find a station near where I was going and simply remember the intersection. I’ll have to look more closely in the future but I’m curious if the online map is advertised at each station.

What Riding The Bike Was Like

Pronto’s bikes are big and bulky. It’s been a long time since I rode an upright bike and heavy bike but it’s definitely comfortable. The very first thing I noticed was that it’s impossible to go as fast as I typically travel. This is probably a good thing and is most likely why bike shares are remarkably safe.

There was one unexpected drawback to this slower speed. I realized that travelling faster among cars actually makes me feel safer. I may or may not actually be safer when I’m travelling faster in traffic but I do feel like I am. As I’m travelling slower I don’t feel like I’m travelling with traffic and the speed at which cars pass me is more jarring. This wouldn’t be a problem at all if I didn’t use Eastlake, a road with faster moving traffic and 4 lanes.  Harrison (in SLU) and Mercer (in Capitol Hill) felt completely safe, largely because they are two lane road with four way stops.

The bikes are generally very nice for a casual ride. I didn’t realize that they came with functional lights. Shifting was easy and the gear selection was more than sufficient for my downhill ride but I still need to test the bikes on an uphill ride. It was a little difficult to read which gear the bike was in although that wasn’t really important to me since I’m used to using a paddle shifter. It was easy to get on the bike simply by stepping through the frame. Overall I would say it was a very comfortable ride.

Is The Cost Too High?

Pronto’s pricing closely mirrors the pricing of a few other bike share programs, like the one in Washington. That program generates a lot of revenue and nearly pays for itself but that’s not necessarily a good accomplishment. Last night after my initial ride, I almost decided to use Pronto again but chose not to because of the price.

I was going downtown with three friends and we all planned on having a few drinks. Because we were running late, we thought the best option would be to take a taxi together. We all walked to meet each other in order to share the taxi ride and happened to meet next to a bike share station. Of course standing next to the station made us all realize that we could just use Pronto to get downtown. After looking at the prices though, we decided against that option.

Eight dollars for a short, ten minute ride was too much. I have a membership so my ride would’ve been free but between my two friends it would’ve been $16 dollars, and that’s not counting the additional cost if we had to pay for helmets. The cab ride ended up costing $7.14 for all three of us, less than the cost of one person using Pronto. This leaves me wondering, for short trips like this one, wouldn’t the city prefer people to use Pronto over a cab? If that’s the case the pricing will need to be a little different. This might affect revenue but that shouldn’t be the top priority since nearly all transportation receives subsidies in one way or another.

Additionally, this would’ve been a great opportunity for two people to try Pronto that aren’t members, possibly encouraging them to sign up. I was left wondering how Pronto plans on enticing people to pay for the annual membership? It seems like people will need to try it out in order to take that larger leap.

A Great Addition To The City’s Transportation Network

The people who are responsible for rolling out the program deserve a lot of praise. It’s a critical addition to the city’s transportation network. It’s easy to use and the price is relatively competitive with other modes. The two situations I had yesterday are great examples of when Pronto is the best mode choice but I’m sure I’ll encounter more as the system matures and I use it more frequently.

 

 

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Owen does servicing and consulting for a software company to pay the bills. He has an amateur interest in urban policy, focusing on housing. His primary mode is a bicycle but isn't ashamed of riding down the hill and taking the bus back up. Feel free to tweet at him: @pickovven.

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Real Estate Gals

Thanks for the report! I like @brynnstrader:disqus’s idea of a single-trip option to reduce the cost. But regardless, membership seems like the best way to go.

Brynn

The $8 for a trip is actually a 24 hour pass, which makes sense for multi trip users (tourists, business travelers). They should have a single trip option priced at bus fare. It would undercut the single day pass, but would probably generate a lot more spontaneous usage and overall volume.

Matt the Engineer

How was the user interface? Was it quick to check one out? My rental experience in SF ended up taking so long that I switched modes (from a $9 bike to a $2.25 historic streetcar).

Matt the Engineer

I didn’t think about it at the time, but I absolutely could have used this last night. I had to travel from Queen Anne to 2nd & Madison downtown and gave myself 40 minutes to get there by car. I imagined this was a very safe buffer. 30 minutes later I was still in Belltown at a complete standstill, and I was starting to panic. I considered getting out of the car and walking, but figured it was a 20 minute walk and I’d be late anyway – and maybe the car traffic would speed up. In the end I was 15 minutes late for something that was very time critical (a total trip time of 55 minutes for a 2.5 mile trip as the crow flies).

If I had remembered that Pronto exists, I surely would have parked (if I could find a space, and this was absolutely worth paying a premium at a lot) and taken a Pronto. I would have paid double that $8 for the benefit of skipping traffic. Of course if I knew it takes 55 minutes to make this journey I would have ridden a bike the whole way.

The $8 is probably not cost competitive with other forms of travel most of the time. I hope they adjust based on demand. But for times like last night, it’s absolutely worth it.

Chris Hughes

I found your article searching for information on bike shares and variable pricing. I think variable pricing could be effective to not only to encourage use, but also to incentivize a more even bike distribution among stations. Miami’s bike share is provided by Citibike (operated by Decobike) and there are many stations with either no bikes or no docks due to one-way trips and the difference in popularity among destinations. With variable pricing, a trip from a full station with no empty docks to an empty station with no available bikes will be cheaper.