Seattle bike-sharing plan gears up, chooses vendor to run program

by: Frank Field Updated:

SEATTLE - A bicycle-sharing program is cranking up its operations with plans to offer bicycles to Seattle commuters by next spring. 

Puget Sound Bike Share announced Tuesday that Alta Bicycle Share will operate the program as a hired vendor while Puget Sound Bike Share administers it.

PSBS plans to start with 500 bikes available at 50 locations in four areas: Downtown, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union and the U-District.

PSBS director Holly Houser said bike sharing is for trips too far to walk, but too short for a car.

Here’s how it works: Riders sign up for a membership with a credit card, unlock a bike at one station and then leave it at another station, where it’s locked up.  It’s similar to renting a luggage cart at an airport.

Houser is working with city and county officials to make it useful for people taking public transit.

“People are going to be more likely to take the light rail into the city if they know that once they get there there's going to be a bike-share station," said Houser.

The program will get startup money from grants and sponsorships, not tax dollars. Operating costs will be covered by a combination of membership fees and sponsors.

Alta runs bike-share programs in New York, Boston, and Washington, DC among other cities.  And the company isn’t too worried the seven-speed cruisers will be stolen. For starters, members' credit cards will be charged for bikes not returned. But Alta said it simply hasn't been a problem elsewhere.

 "We've had about 4 million uses so far in Washington, DC, in 2.5 years and we've lost one bike,” says Alta’s Steve Durrant.

 Houser estimates 450,000 separate rides in the first year with a hoped for 9,500 members and 51,500 “casual” members (think one-day rentals from tourists). Long term, she thinks there’ll be 2 million rides per year after the program expands throughout the city.

 Annual memberships are expected to start around $75 with less expensive options for monthly or even daily memberships.

There will be helmets available to rent or buy that will be cleaned and dried between uses.

They hope to roll out the first bikes by next May, which is national Bike-To-Work Month.