Councilmember O'Brien left office on December 31, 2019. This website is for archival purposes only and is no longer updated.

Investing in Bike Share – Public Ownership, Public Accountability

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In October 2014 Seattle joined many other municipalities in welcoming bike share as a component of our public transit system. One hundred and forty thousand rides later, the bike share program Pronto continues to grow, but now requires a public investment to continue operations and to expand its network.  We faced a decision to either make this investment and maintain existing service or allow the system to cease operations with the possibility of starting a new system in the future.

Throughout the last few weeks, I have received many messages from constituents both asking me to support bike share as well as to let the current program dissolve. All of your communications are extremely important to me and I use your thoughts to help guide my decision. I would like to highlight my own thoughts and explain why I am choosing to support public ownership of Pronto, with greater public oversight.

Pronto currently has 3,000 members who utilize bike share to get around. Through public testimony and constituent messages, it has become very clear to me that bike share is essential to many Seattle residents. A robust bike share system has succeeded with public investment in many cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., to name a few. Some have suggested that bike share should be operated by a private company. Only one municipality has a completely private system – New York City – which is sustained through a massively larger population, high usage by tourists, and a distinctly concentrated network in the wealthier areas of the City. I have serious concerns that a completely privatized program in Seattle would be similarly focused and only serve higher income neighborhoods. In contrast, a public system that incorporates community input will result in a more sustainable and equitable system for our city, and will complement our burgeoning public transportation network of bus and light rail.

Now that the city has recommitted to our bike share system through this investment, here are some improvements I expect to see in the remainder of 2016:

  • Repositioning some of the stations to better serve the needs of existing and potential users. Ensuring that stations are both visible and accessible is a key to success and with over a year’s worth of data I expect some underperforming stations will be moved to better locations.
  • Coordinating existing service with new light rail infrastructure. This weekend new light rail stations open on Capitol Hill and at Husky Stadium.  While both have Pronto stations within a few blocks, there are opportunities to work with Sound Transit to reposition bike stations closer to the light rail stations.
  • Increased marketing efforts.  Now that the uncertainty about the future of bike share has been removed and warm weather is just around the corner, promotion of the existing system will increase and hopefully attract new users.
  • Better access for low income riders.  While a low income program currently exists, it can be expanded to coordinate with other low income transportation resources, such as the ORCA Lift program and discounted car-share options.

As we look to expand the system in 2017, you can expect to see more stations and more bikes, which means both better access in the areas currently served by Pronto and a reach into new neighborhoods.  A bigger network will mean many new opportunities for people to use the system.  This will also be an opportunity to streamline membership through a shared ORCA card, design the system to better work for low income communities and people whose first language isn’t English, and possibly employ newer technologies such as electric assist bikes.

I continue to appreciate the comments and agree with some of the critiques of Pronto and I have heard a call for greater public oversight. At the Full Council meeting yesterday, I sponsored an amendment that calls for more Council input in evaluating the request for proposals, so that we can better ensure the ideas above come to fruition.

Public ownership of bike share is an exciting proposition. I am choosing to build upon our current base of 3,000 Pronto members and our bike sharing infrastructure, and I sincerely believe that with our support bike share will expand, increase membership, and continue to be an integral piece of our transit system. All other modes of transportation have experienced similar growing pains. Now is the time for us to invest in this mode of sustainable transportation.

In Community,




It has come to the attention of this Office that the Councilmember was originally provided incorrect information and the number of members for Pronto is currently 1,900. It is important to also note that policy decisions for this issue were actually based on the number of trips, which is not correlated with the number of memberships.


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Comment from john shepherd
Time March 15, 2016 at 12:43 pm

Let me get right to the point Mike, You are a dilusional moron driven by ideology of the extreme left. What a complete bull shit response to your incompetent Vote. Regards john shepherd Owner Red Mill Burgers

Comment from Alan Newstead
Time March 15, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Mr. O’Brien, you continue to miss the point about this program, and perhaps in a world where we have funded all the other important initiatives in the city, this might be something to tackle.

But we absolutely haven’t tackled the much bigger issues, and the outrage you are hearing today relates to the dismay that you and your fellow councilors don’t understand that.

We have huge unfunded issues in our city and our district. Homelessness is rampant, as is drug abuse and petty theft.

The police don’t have sufficient funding to patrol or follow-up on the theft, Greenwood Foodbank is closing due to a $53K shortfall, and homelessness is so bad that the city has declared is an emergency.

Would any of those (besides Greenwood foodbank) be solved by the $1.4mil, no. But it would be $1.4mil closer to solving them…. It could buy hand warmers or food for many who need it.

And the fact that you would fight for something that less than 0.5% of the city uses (3,000 members divided by 650,000 population of Seattle) at a subsidy rate of $467 per member.

That’s a shockingly large amount. At $10/meal, we could feed a 140,000 people who are in real need.

I have heard about the $1mil that would have otherwise have to be repaid to the Federal government, but even the extra $400K would feed 40,000!

Your failure here is not about whether or not the bike share program by itself is or is not a viable program.

Your failure is the prioritization decision to allow this to be funded and allowing SDOT and city employees to continue to spend time on making this program successful, while ignoring the much more important issues that we as citizens want you to focus on.

Comment from Alan Newstead
Time March 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm

So I’m no math whiz…. Although I do have a degree in economics like Mike but can someone explain how there is no correlation between members and rides, when SDOTs own business plan calls for 78% of Pronto Rides to come from members?!?

You then drop 37% of those members and magically the revenue stream is the same?!

There is no name calling here. I am just a tax paying citizen who lives in this district. Is it too much to ask our elected councillor with an economics degree to at least act like numbers matter.

So beyond the $1.4mil wasted to buy Pronto without any negotiation or actual assessment of the current market value, this council and/or SDOT will spend at least another $1mil to cover the operational losses in 2016.

Again, tell me how many homeless could be fed for that money? How many cops could we hire with it?

Comment from David aron
Time April 5, 2016 at 9:19 am

Not only is this a bad economic deal, it shows a willfull disregard and lack of respect for the vast majority of seattle residents who will never utilize a service such as this. To pretend that anyone over 50 who s not in extraordinary physical shape could make use of this is bizarre. There are huge transportation issues confronting this city, it’s insulting that an elected official would divert money for a frivolous project that only benefits a few, and ultimately financially rewards a few political allies and friends of the cascade bike mafia.

Comment from rimshapari
Time October 1, 2016 at 1:42 pm

That’s a shockingly large amount. At $10/meal, we could feed a 140,000 people who are in real need.

I have heard about the $1mil that would have otherwise have to be repaid to the Federal government, but even the extra $400K would feed 40,000!

Your failure here is not about whether or not the bike share program by itself is or is not a viable program.

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