The city of Seattle rolled out three electric pedal assist bikes on Wednesday to make the case for why the city should spend $5 million on 1,200 of them.
Andrew Glass Hastings, with the Seattle Department of Transportation, touted the bikes as “smart bikes” with electric motors that will eventually be able to use ORCA cards and become a reliable, additional link in the public transportation system.
Glass Hastings said they city is going with a plan that minimizes its financial risk, with the vendor, Bewegen, assuming operation and maintenance costs and shouldering 25 percent of the start-up costs. The city of Seattle, he said, would provide the remaining 75 percent, with the $5 million the city has slated for a new bike share program.
The bikes have batteries and a motor that can help bicyclists on hills. There would be 100 docking stations, twice the number of current Pronto stations. SDOT is figuring out where they want to set the top speed for the bikes.
The city paid $1.4 million to bail out the Pronto bike share system earlier in 2016, which it is now looking to sell to smaller cities. While some like the electric concept, they're skeptical it'll actually succeed where Pronto failed.
“It looks awesome because it's quick,” Tyler Miller said, “but I don't think it's something I'd use on a daily basis.”
Miller said he used Pronto twice to take a couple spins around Lake Union.
“I don’t know if an electric assist is going to necessarily be the trigger that helps people get to use the bikes,” he said. “I think there's other factors that really are the reason people aren't riding them maybe as much.”
In September, KIRO 7 asked Glass Hastings how the city decided that electric pedal assist bikes were a wise investment.
“If there's no data on how many more people in Seattle would use these electric assisted bikes, how did you decide on this company?” KIRO 7 asked.
“Don’t get me wrong. There is data. There is data that the city has put together, there's data that the vendor has put together in their proposal,” he said at the time. “I’m not prepared to speak to that right here off the cuff.”
“Oh, studies in Seattle?” KIRO 7 asked.
“Yes,” he responded.
Glass Hastings said a minute later that he would have to check on whether there had been a study done in Seattle specifically.
That same week, according to a public disclosure request, KIRO 7 discovered that Seattle City Council members received more than 30 emails against the new electric bike share program and none in favor.
On Wednesday Glass Hastings confirmed that there is no data on electric pedal assist bikes’ feasibility in Seattle.
“Why not do a study for this?” KIRO 7 asked.
“Seattle's a great place,” he said. “There's no reason to think that bike share -- in 104 cities around the country-- working in those cities, there's no reason to think it can’t work here. We think the pedal assist technology is just the sort of the additional element that's going to increase the appeal of bike share here in Seattle.”
But when KIRO 7 asked Mayor Murray about the lack of research on electric pedal assist bikes in Seattle, he was not worried. He said the city had failed in not making the Pronto system big enough.
“We got something wrong with the model that we tried in this city, but I think bike share can be very successful,” he said.
Murray also mentioned New York City’s bike share program, Citibike.
“No one would have ever imagined Manhattan as a bicycle haven,” he said. “If Manhattan can be a bicycle haven, Seattle can.”
KIRO 7 checked and found that Citibike does not use public money. Instead, it runs on millions in private investments, sponsorships, and its revenue.
Glass Hastings said he hopes to get a proposal for the electric pedal assist bikes to the City Council by the end of the year or in January.
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