June 18, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 25

News

Learning to Share

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

Bike-sharing is about to roll out in Seattle. Will low-income people get taken for a ride?

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Joining New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Boston, Seattle is about to roll out a bike-sharing program.

Pronto Bike Share — a nonprofit formerly known as Puget Sound Bike Share — has released a map of potential sites for the 50 planned rental stations, as far south as SoDo and as far north as Children’s Hospital on Sand Point Way. They are slated to be up and running as early as September.

Each kiosk will offer as many as 30 bicycles for use in the membership-based program, as well as helmets that rent for $2.

But here, as elsewhere, low-income people may face barriers to participation.

The Seattle City Council approved an ordinance June 16 that allows Pronto to place the kiosks in the city. The group has not finalized a low-income rate yet but will by the time memberships go on sale Aug. 25, said Holly Houser, Pronto’s executive director.

A credit card will be required to sign up for the program, something many low-income people lack.

Other cities have worked with banks or nonprofits to provide credit cards with mixed success, Houser said. Some don’t qualify for a credit card and few people take advantage of the offer.

“We may not be ready by launch with a solution to that,” Houser said.

Pronto offered a map of locations being considered for the kiosks to the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Committee June 16. Most are located around Downtown, Capitol Hill and South Lake Union. A few will be located around the University District and East Lake.

Most of the proposed locations are on public rights of way, meaning along sidewalks and next to street curbs.

The nonprofit will still need to file for permits with the city’s Department of Transportation or the Department of Planning and Development to get approval for each individual location. The organization will need approval from some neighborhood historic boards and the library system as well.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen encouraged officials from Pronto to consider installing bike share locations in other areas of the city, including along California Avenue in West Seattle and along Rainier Avenue in South Seattle.

“We’ll get there,” said Ref Lindmark, president of Pronto’s board of directors.

Andrew Austin, policy director of Transportation Choices, a transit advocacy nonprofit, said bike share programs can be an affordable transportation option.

“It can be a great connection tool for all different types of people, including low-income folks,” he said.

An annual membership costs $85 a year. The first 30 minutes of each rental will be free to members. The second half hour will cost $2, and each additional half hour will cost $5. Members will receive a key fob to access the bikes.

Bicycles in other bike-share programs around the world are typically three-speed bikes. Because of Seattle’s steep hills, the bikes will be seven-speed.

In the first year, the program will cost $4.4 million.

Half of the funding is from state and federal grants. Other organizations and sponsors are paying for the rest.

Alaska Airlines provided a $2.5 million sponsorship in exchange for its logo appearing on the mud guards of all the bicycles.

The program is selling location sponsorships for $12,000 a year, which allows organizations to advertise on the kiosks.

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