The City of Vancouver is keeping a close eye on Seattle’s recent public bike share launch as the long-delayed program here remains on hold.
Vancouver’s bike share will face similar mandatory helmet laws to Seattle, something few bike shares have contended with.
Needing to offer helmets along with the bikes created additional challenges leading up to the Oct. 13 launch of Seattle’s Pronto bike share according to its executive director Holly Houser.
“There’s an added cost to that, there’s also a perceived decrease in ridership.”
Launch set for 2015
Vancouver city staff travelled to Seattle before Pronto’s launch to meet with their team and conversations are ongoing, Houser said. Pronto uses Alta Bicycle Share to provide bikes and manage the system — the same firm Vancouver has chosen.
Vancouver has not finalized contracts with Alta, a city spokesperson said, requiring Alta to secure financing and sponsorship first. The city’s website now says public bike share will launch in 2015.
Seattle and Vancouver both plan to use helmet vending machines. But the machines from Boston firm HelmetHub weren’t ready for Pronto’s launch. For now, helmets are loaned for free and will be cleaned and restocked upon their return.
In its first week, approximately 4,000 riders tried Pronto’s 500 bikes and nearly 1,500 signed up for annual memberships.
Attitudes to helmets
Along with following Seattle, ongoing studies from researchers at local universities are providing Vancouver with insight into how the program might be received here.
Meghan Winters, an assistant professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, is working on a pre- and post-launch study of Vancouver’s public bike share and sharing findings with the city.
Over half of Vancouverites surveyed in the prelaunch study were in favour of a bike share, though only a quarter said they’d likely use it.
Respondents said the presence of bike lanes and routes would be the biggest motivators for using a bike share.
Notably, helmet use was a consideration, but no more of one than weather, fear of crashing or hills.
“It did not stand out as the strongest influence,” Winters said.
UBC researcher Kay Teschke helped supervise the study. She said it is critical to have as much data as possible ahead of launching bike share here, a view the city seems to share.
“The city cares just as much about this, they want to know what contributes to success or failure,” she said. “They don’t just want to sit back and let things roll out.”