Monday, Seattle’s bike share system went into operation, and it includes a form of h*lmet rental, due to Seattle’s mandatory helmet law.

Called “Pronto Cycle Share“, (@cyclepronto, #GoPronto, it launched with 500 bikes, and 50 stations, via Alta Bicycle Share.

Pronto has numerous sponsors, including Alaska Airlines, and uses a combination of public and private financing. Vancouver is looking at Alta closely, but won’t sign any contracts until the financials look better. Hello out there, any Corporate sponsors reading this?  Telus, Lululemon?

Personally, I think 500 bikes and 50 stations may be too small for a sufficient “network effect” to kick in and spur utilization. Vancouver’s planned 1500 bike and 125 station size is marginal.

Stations, electronics and networking are still supplied by 8D Technologies.

It would appear that the fallout from Bixi ‘s serious financial problems has led Alta to a new bike supplier — Arcade cycles in France, who tout robustness, reliability and longevity.  They have a long range, including a line of shaft-driven bikes, along with e-bikes, tandems, trailers and cargo trikes.

Helmet rental is on the honour system, with unlocked return and pickup bins at each station.  This is really messy.  Annual memberships include a free helmet. The Pronto web site refers to HelmetHub, whose automated dispenser kiosk is apparently in test in Boston, but may not be installed in Seattle until 1Q 2015. In my mind, the problem here will not be the dispenser, but will be the integration of the helmet kiosk’s automated sales and retrieval functions with 8D’s station electronics and back-end systems.

Many eyes are on Seattle for the next while, monitoring Pronto’s success in one of the few places with both a helmet law and a bike share system.