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pronto1321The City of Seattle wants to expand its bike-sharing program in big ways.

City officials confirmed today that Seattle is seeking $10 million to support an expansion of the Pronto bike-share program. The money would come from a larger federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant that the city is applying for.

The city is also looking to bring in an additional $8 million from public and private resources that would feed a total of $18 million to help grow the current bike-sharing program from 51 stations and 500 bikes to 250 stations and 2,500 bikes, some of which would be electric.

MyNorthwest first reported on the potential expansion, which would provide access to bikes in several more neighborhoods throughout Seattle.

The current program, which launched in October, is essentially a Car2go for bicycles and allows people to rent seven-gear bikes, pedal around, and then drop off the bike at any of the 51 docking stations in town spread around the University District, South Lake Union, Downtown and Capitol Hill.

FRONT-Wo-(1)Bikers can buy an $85 annual membership that allow users to rent bikes for 30 minutes at a time without any extra charges. Those that don’t need a year-long membership can buy a $8 24-hour pass or a $16 3-day pass. Users, who must be older than 16 and have a credit/debit card, can rent the bikes and then drop them off at any other station. Any ride lasting longer than 30 minutes incurs additional fees.

After eight months, there are now 2,755 annual members and 12,720 short-term pass holders that have logged just under 70,700 trips and more than 151,000 miles. The busiest station is at Pier 69, which Pronto said suggests people are using the program to “enjoy the waterfront.”

Pronto currently operates as a non-profit and is funded by grants, sponsorships and user fees. Alaska Airlines paid $2.5 million to paint its logo on each bicycle, while Vulcan, REI and Seattle’s Children’s Hospital all put up money for the program. Brooklyn-based Motivate, which manages similar services in nine other cities worldwide, operates the program.

The city clearly wants the program to be more than just a way for people to enjoy nice scenery. If the grant funds are secured, expansion is scheduled for some time next year or 2017.

The $18 million will be critical to turn bike-sharing into a legitimate mode of “transit,” the city said. Expansion would increase the service area from 5 square miles of the city and 14 percent of the population to 42 square miles serving 62 percent of the population. Seattle also wants to integrate bike-share into the ORCA system and allow users to access bicycles with an ORCA card.

Here’s what the expansion would look like, with yellow showing existing coverage and blue showing the expanded system.

Yellow shows existing bike-share coverage; blue shows expansion areas (click to enlarge).
Yellow shows existing bike-share coverage; blue shows expansion areas. Dark blue overlap shows areas of “higher percentage of vulnerable populations.” (click to enlarge).

Here’s a tidbit from the city’s TIGER grant application:

Throughout the country, bikeshare systems have shown that they can serve as important parts of cities’ transit systems. However, bikeshare systems need to have a sufficient critical mass of stations and bikes to serve as reliable connections to transit. Currently, Seattle’s bikeshare system connects to 4 of the city’s 11 light rail stations, and only 11 of the Rapid Ride stations. Today, Seattle’s bikeshare system serves predominantly affluent neighborhoods and does not meet the needs of all Seattleites.

Part of the additional funds would also go to electric bikes, which the city said will help people get up-and-down hills and attract more users of all ages and abilities.

Pronto Executive Director Holly Houser said that if the expansion goes through, the city would acquire the non-profit and turn the program into a more traditional bike-share business model that’s common in other U.S. cities.

“At the time of Seattle’s initial interest in bike-share, city leadership was not prepared to launch the system, and therefore, a non-profit was formed,” Houser added. “Now, with new leadership both in the Mayor’s office as well as SDOT, the city is poised and enthusiastic about expanding and sustaining the system with public funds.”

The Pronto program is another alternative transportation option now available in Seattle. This past summer, the Seattle City Council approved a regulatory framework that allowed on-demand transit startups like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar to operate legally in the Emerald City.

Then earlier this year, the council also approved new legislation that will allow up to three “free-floating car sharing pilot programs” in the city, in addition to Car2go.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is also proposing a nine-year, $900 million transportation levy for the ballot in November.

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