View Full Version : Pronto Cycle Share in Seattle

08-15-2015, 12:56 PM
A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to try out the bikeshare system in Seattle, Pronto Cycle Share. It is operated by Motivate, the same company that runs Capital Bikeshare on behalf of the member jurisdictions. It's a relatively new system, having opened in Fall 2014.

I read that their regular membership numbers were just a little below expected as of the spring. But the daily member totals were much higher than expected.

I signed up for a 24-hr membership. I was attending an event that left little free time to bike on some days. (I met many cast members from the modern and original Battlestar Galactica series, by the way. Very cool, although there was some drama before the event, caused by poor planning by the organizers. Anyway.) I had some free time on one evening and then the following morning and afternoon. So the 24-hr deal worked out and I could avoid the 3-day membership.

The 24-hr membership was $8, I believe. Plus there was an optional charge for renting a helmet. (King County has a mandatory helmet law, for all ages. I saw other riders without helmets, but I figured it was best to follow this law.) I also opted for the bike key, instead of reusing my credit card every time I wanted to get a new bike.


Every bike station in Seattle has a helmet dispenser, next to the kiosk. During the registration process, you are offered the choice of renting a helmet. You are supposed to wear one, but if you have your own, you don't need to rent one. If you do rent one, you will see a code on the kiosk display. Enter the code on the keypad at the helmet dispenser, which is a tall cabinet that is clearly marked. The door opens up and you can remove one of the helmets. The helmets are cleaned and individually wrapped. Remove the plastic wrapper and put it into the helmet return container, which is in the same cabinet as the helmet dispenser. After you finish using the helmet, you can return it to any helmet return container. The helmets are one size only. It fit me well enough.


The bike key was a little more confusing. I thought there would be another code to enter to retrieve the bike key from the kiosk. But the display timed out while I was typing the helmet keycode onto my phone. I tried using the same code on the kiosk pad but it didn't work. So I called their service number. They gave me a separate code to use for the bike key. I entered that code and soon after, the machine spit out a new, lime-green bike key. Unlike CaBi keys, this one does not have an embedded chip. It looks like a Kastle key but it has a barcode label attached to one side. The bike docks read the barcode. They don't have sensors for embedded chips.


Even though I was new to the Pronto system, I am not new to bikeshare in general. So I served again as an informal guide and ambassador, even for Pronto. People frequently ask me questions about how CaBi works. Maybe because I tend to linger a little longer at stations after I check out bikes. (I like to make sure I have the bike key with me and everything else, so I don't ride off and leave something behind. I found that someone else had left their house keys and bikeshare key in a slot at a CaBi station a few weeks ago. I called the CaBi service number and they forwarded my contact info to that member. I was able to meet up and return the key to that person a few minutes later.)

Because I'm standing near the CaBi bike stations with a bike, and presumably I look like I know what I'm doing, out-of-town visitors or CaBi newbies will often ask me how the system works, or how to use the pin codes or other questions about the system. I always oblige because more people on bikes is good for all of us. (The tourists may not always be the most nimble of riders, but they tend not to speed around the trails.)

I was doing the same thing at the Pronto bike station when some fellow with an Australian accent asked me about the system. He was trying to rent a bike but couldn't figure out how everything worked. So I explained the entire process. I emphasized (as I usually do) that he should be sure to return the bike within 30 minutes, to avoid extra per-ride fees. But he could just check out the bike again and continue his trip or ride. I didn't mention that I was from out of town myself because it wasn't relevant. I knew about the system from reading the website before I arrived in Seattle and the process is nearly the same as with Capital Bikeshare. I think I mentioned the Spotcycle app too.

As for Spotcycle, it's very easy to switch cities. Go to the Settings menu and change the city. Then the app will cover that city, not DC or Arlington. Very simple.


I think the Pronto bikes might be the ones that Motivate will use for Capital Bikeshare in the future. The planned CaBi expansion this year will rely on another order from Bixi, so the new CaBi bikes and stations will be the same as the current ones. But after that, I think we may be getting the new Motivate equipment. If so, then our new bikes and stations could be the same ones I used in Seattle.

The Pronto bikes are a little lighter than the CaBi Bixi bikes, I think. At least it felt that way to me. The handlebars are a little different. The Pronto bikes have seven gears. There are some very steep climbs near downtown Seattle, right in the middle of the Pronto coverage area. While I managed to make it up that hill, I think it would be very difficult if not almost impossible for a casual cyclist to handle. But there are also many flat areas of interest in the Pronto coverage area. It's good to have the extra gears, just in case.

It sounded as though there was a little more rattling on the Pronto bike than on a CaBi bike. Maybe because the bikes are designed to be lighter and more nimble. Or maybe it was just that particular bike. I didn't use enough different bikes to get good comparison data on this. I docked and undocked the bike, using the same one throughout a longer ride.


As I noted in other threads, there are some very scenic areas in the Pronto coverage area. While downtown Seattle looks like any other modern U.S. city center with its tall office buildings, the trail along Elliott Bay offers views of the Olympic Mountains in the distance, behind the water. Olympic Sculpture Park is next to the trail. There are a couple bike stations near the trail, but it would have been nice to have another one a little farther north along the paved trail.

There is a station near the Seattle Center, the large campus that includes the famous Space Needle, the EMP Museum, the Chihuly glass exhibit, Key Arena, the Pacific Science Center, performing arts halls and more. There are also bike stations on the way to and along Lake Union, a freshwater lake entirely within the city limits. Many yachts are docked along the shore. There are tourist seaplanes that take off and land on the lake almost continuously. They fly right over the city. (We sometimes forget that not every city has the same strict flight restrictions that we have here in DC. The main Seattle airports are off to the south of the city, so there wouldn't be any low-flying air traffic from flights to/from the airports. So the seaplanes are free to fly over and around central Seattle. I saw them overhead very frequently.)

I'll post close-up photos of the bike station, the bikes and the helmet dispenser in other posts below, along with a few more general shots of Seattle that I saw while riding around on the Pronto bikes.

08-15-2015, 12:58 PM




It's easier to remove a bike from the Pronto stations than from a CaBi station. Once the barcode on your key is read, the locking mechanism releases. You don't have to tug on the bike to get it out. It's already completely free.


The bottom opening on the kiosk is where bike keys are distributed to new members.

08-15-2015, 01:02 PM



This road leads from the waterfront to downtown Seattle. Each block had a very steep stretch, then a flat section at the intersection with the cross street. Then another steep stretch and a flat intersection. Over and over and over again.



Another view of how steep some of the streets are in central Seattle.

08-16-2015, 07:19 PM
Although I'm VERY glad we don't have a helmet law, I think it would be nice if we could get the helmet dispensers eventually. I personally prefer to ride with a helmet, and sometimes I choose not to take CaBi when I otherwise would have, because I don't have a helmet with me.

08-16-2015, 08:37 PM
I used to wear a helmet on nearly all my CaBi trips. But now that the data shows that there haven't been any serious head injuries over 10 million individual bike trips on the CaBi system, I'm not nearly as vigilant about it. If I'm planning to do a faster ride on CaBi, I would still wear a helmet. But for RackSpotter and local errand trips where I'm going to be riding very slowly, I don't worry as much about the helmet. The slower speeds and the sturdier bikes make it much easier to avoid issues on the streets.

I know there is still a risk of injury but that's the case with any mode of travel, including driving, riding a bus/MetroRail or walking. (I've had more close encounters while walking in crosswalks than I have while riding CaBi.)

On the other hand, I will always wear a helmet for training rides or faster travel on the triathlon or mountain bikes.

08-16-2015, 10:26 PM
I agree, and I'm working on getting more comfortable riding without a helmet, but I think it's nice to have the option. Some of us are clumsier/tippier/more accident-prone/more likely to run into a low-hanging tree branch than others!