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By Janet Lafleur

About this blog: My love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on my first red tricycle that I pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when my dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on my older sist...  (More)

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Ready or Not, Bike Share is Coming

Uploaded: Aug 9, 2013
When I walked out of the Caltrain station in downtown San Jose this morning there it was: a long row of empty bike docking stations for Bay Area Bike Share. The bikes won't show up until the program's launch that?s scheduled for later this month, but after hearing about bike share plans for over a year, seeing the equipment on the streets of San Jose made it all very real. Bike share is coming.

Bike share programs are designed for short trips across town, not long commutes or recreation or fitness rides. Members check a bike out from one docking station, ride away, then check the bike into another station near their destination. Stations are located near popular destinations like transit, stores and restaurants, and ideally near offices and homes where many people begin their trips.

Bay Area Bike Share is being launched as a pilot program in five cities along popular Caltrain stops: San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. Membership plans cover all five cities and are available on a 24 hour, 3-day or annual basis ($9, $22, and $88, respectively). Trips shorter than 30 minutes are free; keeping bikes out longer than 30 minutes means stiff additional charges designed to discourage longer trips. Members are also liable for $1200 replacement fee for bikes that are lost or stolen, but once you re-dock the bike your liability ends.

Bike share may be new to the Bay Area, but it's found in over 500 cities worldwide, most famously in Paris and London, and over a dozen North American cities, including New York City, Montreal, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Toronto, Denver and Chicago. My niece Alison and her husband use the Capital Bikeshare in Washingon D.C. regularly to go to the grocery, to visit friends, and to go out on dinner dates in the evening. Their small apartment in Capitol Hill doesn?t offer much room for storing bikes so they appreciate having a bike share station a couple of blocks away.

The bikes for the Bay Area will be very similar to the bikes from D.C. and New York City. The biggest difference is that our bikes will have seven gears instead of the three so people can climb San Francisco?s hills more easily, and they?ll be painted seafoam green. For the bike geeks, that's the classic celeste color of bikes made by Bianchi. Bellísimo!

My friends and I were lucky enough to get a chance to test ride them last week at Thursday Night Live on Castro Street two weeks ago. We?re all daily cyclists, so we can be a fussy group to please. First impressions were that the bikes were comfortable and easy to ride, nimble when turning at slow speeds, and slow relative to our usual bikes. I was impressed with how the bike adjusted to fit everyone from five foot tall Megan to my husband Dick who stands six foot two. The bikes are fully equipped with a covered chain to keep clothing clean, a front rack to carry a purse or grocery bag, a bell for alerting pedestrians, and always-on front and rear lights for safe riding after dark. See the photo link for closeups of the bike's features.

As a one year pilot, the Bay Area program is starting small with 700 bikes in 70 stations. There will be seven stations in Mountain View near Castro Street, near San Antonio shopping center, and at Rengstorff Park. (See map link in resources below) With additional funding the program may be expanded to more bikes and/or stations in Mountain View and in other cities. I sure hope it is since our home is a mile from the nearest station.

Do you think bike share will be as successful in the Bay Area as in other cities? Why or why not? How and when do you think you'll use it?

Bay Area Bike Share Information:
Bike Fun Bike Share Photos:
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by the catch, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 9, 2013 at 9:25 am

The catch is that they are charging the same price as for the full-service systems, but we're only getting a pilot level of service. New York City charges the same annual fee, but their system has 6000 bicycles (expanding to 10,000 soon). The Bay Area system has 1/10 the level of service, so there is a huge likelihood that you will not be able to find a bike or a rental station when you want it.

Posted by Late Adopter, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Should be an interesting pilot. I guess if all the bikes are always taken, it would show quite a healthy demand, giving good reason to expand it..then more...and more. _If_ it works out that way; we'll see. Like I said, should be an interesting pilot.

Posted by catch, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 9, 2013 at 5:38 pm

I'm just afraid that most people will give up on the system because the sparse deployment makes it is so unreliable. New York City's system is already reporting over-capacity problems despite having 10 times as many bikes and stations.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 9, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

I agree that the pilot program's small size could be an issue. Part of what makes bike share work is having bikes readily available at stations that are fairly close to each other so that they saturate the area. So 700 bikes at 70 stations in five cities isn't ideal.

New York City's over-capacity issues is a strong statement for the value of bike share to its residents. Between tweaking the station locations, adding more bikes and balancing the bike locations, I'm sure they'll resolve most of their issues. But transportation in New York is tough during peak periods for all modes: standing-room-only subways, bumper-to-bumper cars, and crowded sidewalks are common. Now they have another option--bike share--that's sometimes over-crowded.

I would love it if we have New York City's bike share demand problems.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

I forgot to mention that both my husband Dick and I bought annual memberships. I can't wait until the bikes arrive so we can do our first Bay Area Bike Share adventure. I'll be blogging about it of course.

Posted by Omg, a resident of Gemello,
on Aug 10, 2013 at 8:59 am

You and dick are nerds...

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 10, 2013 at 9:37 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@OMG We're not nerds, we're geeks. Not sure what the difference is? Check this infographic: Web Link And the fact that I referred you to an infographic is proof of my geekitude.

Posted by Yeah...NO, a resident of Gemello,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 9:11 am

No....I'm pretty sure you're till a nerd.But thanks for the "info graphic".

Posted by nerd, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 10:01 am

When I was growing up, nerds were smart geeks. Maybe the new generation of geeks doesn't value smarts anymore, but they will learn when they grow up and wind up working for nerds.

Posted by Wait....What? , a resident of Gemello,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 10:10 am

Nerds and geeks can make all the money in the world! But at the end of the day, guess what? There still nerds and geeks and will never be cool! LOL

Posted by Cyclist, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 11:11 am

The pilot will cost $7 million for 700 bikes. That's $10,000 per bike.

It is funded by the Air District, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and "local agency partners." In other words, by tax-payers.

I'm an avid cyclist, and I'm trying to understand how this makes any sense, financially or otherwise.

There are two types of people who would use this program, those who have bikes, and those who don't. For those who have bikes, I'm trying to grasp under what circumstances they would pay $88 a year plus the fees for having a bike out for more than 30 mins. For those who don't have bikes, I imagine that once they are done paying $88 plus the fees for > 30 mins, they will quickly realize it is more cost-effective to just buy a good used bike.

Not to mention the $1200 when the bikes get stolen. It will happen, I've had 3 bikes stolen in 5 years, all locked up.

This kind of program would never happen by private enterprise, anyone who cares about their own money would realize that $7 million for this is a losing proposition.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 11:56 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Cyclist I think we're all trying to imagine how it will work since we haven't seen it here before.

As for who'll use it: My niece and her husband just renewed their Capital Bikeshare annual membership instead of buying their own bikes. She said they use them for 5-20 min trips and loves the program. Storage space is one issue for them.

For my husband and me, we expect to use bike share when visiting San Francisco. We normally take our own bikes but I don't like leaving them locked up in SF for theft reasons. With bike share, once we lock the bikes back into the station we're not liable. The bikes themselves have non-standard parts so they're far less likely to have their seats, wheels, etc stolen. We had our saddles stolen last time we locked up at SF MOMA. :(

As for the cost of the pilot: Yes, it's taxpayer funded and very expensive on a per bike basis. Many programs in other cities are funded by corporate sponsors: Citibank in NYC, Barclays in London, JC Decaux in Paris. Citi's sponsorship was $47.5 million for 6000 bikes in 300 stations (to go to 10K soon). That's worst case $790 per bike.

How this will all work out remains to be seen, but it's worked in other cities and it's worth a try here. I'm hoping for a corporate sponsor and a non-profit to manage it instead of government funding.

Posted by Sean, a resident of Martens-Carmelita,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 11:59 am

Well said, it took 2days before I realized I was followed for 30 minutes when my $800 bike was stolen. I'm still spitefull. Criminals are smart, think about this, my friend who does shady things uses a small jack (like the type to raise your car) uses it to pop u locks.....which most people think are impossible to break....really made me think.

Posted by resident, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I have to assume that a large portion of the program's price is startup costs like software, employees, and rental stations. If they increase the system to something like what New York City has (6000 bikes), then the price per bike will drop sharply.

Regarding why would a person use this system if they already own a bike, I can think of many reasons. Taking your own bike on Caltrain is a huge hassle, especially at rush hour. I regularly see bicyclists abandoned at train stations because there are no more bike spaces on the train. And that is after they have already bought a train ticket.

If you only need the bike for part of the day, rental bikes mean you don't have to find some place to leave the bike for the rest of the day. With these rental bikes, you just return them to a station near your destination and you never have to worry about theft.

This assumes, of course, that there are stations near popular destinations around the city. Hopefully there will be stations at all the major parks, shopping centers, and employers in the city. Hopefully, shopping centers and employers will see the benefit in sponsoring these stations themselves.

Posted by Cyclist, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I don't doubt that there will be a few people who will try this out, I will be one of them. But more out of curiosity than from filling a real need.

When all these non bike-related agencies decided to spend $10,000 per bike on a program like this, I don't think this was within their mandate. Air District? I don't doubt that private enterprises would contribute to a viable program, after it proved to be viable. My concern is that all the risk up front is being assumed by tax payers, without any real consent to do so.

San Francisco already has at least one privately-run bike rental program that is wildly popular, judging by the number of tourists I see pushing the bikes up SF hills.

700 bikes distributed around an entire metro area can't be fairly compared to the DC program of thousands of bikes in a dense downtown with many drop locations near the Metro. All of the cities cited are dense downtowns, flat, and heavily touristed. I believe that tourists fill the need in many of these cases.

I rented such a metro bike in Germany at the train station a few years back while on vacation. The bike looked just like the one in the article's picture. (Non-standard parks, not very desirable.) The bike was issued with a lock, and it was stolen, while locked up, within 3 hours of rental. I had to fill out some paperwork, and got another one without any penalty to me. The German tax-payer picked up most of that tab. Now imagine a scenario where a tourist is risking $1200 if their undesirable rental gets stolen. That would prevent most users from ever parking it anywhere but the drop locations. And with limited drop locations and 700 bikes distributed over such a wide area, that limits the usefulness of this program significantly.

Private bike rental companies have already figured out how to do this cost-effectively in SF. If there were really a need for a redundant program like the $10K program, it would have existed already, there is plenty of VC money around to fund something like this, if it made any sense.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

Bike sharing should not be confused with bikes rentals. Bike sharing have a pricing schema that's set up for short point-to-point trips where the focus is transportation, not joyriding like tourists often do. Think "I want to ride from my hotel at Fisherman's Wharf to breakfast at the Ferry Building" vs "Let's ride over the Golden Gate Bridge and come back on the ferry."

The scenario you had in Germany won't happen here because bike share bikes don't come with locks, you have to use the docking station to lock them. So yes, that means people will be unlikely to ride them outside the bike share zone which is pretty small. It's a pilot.

Posted by Cyclist, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 12, 2013 at 3:09 pm

The > 30 minute fee is not mentioned in any of the press releases I have read. You have to go to the Bay Area Bike Share website (linked) to learn this. It's +$4 for 31-60 minutes, +$7 for each add'l 30 minutes. I don't understand why this isn't made known when the $9/$22/$88 prices are mentioned in all the releases.

A one-day $9 pass plus a $4 penalty for 30 mins quickly approaches the $14 fee for an all-day pass on Muni.

With only 700 bikes distributed over 70 stations in the SF bay area, there's no guarantee when you want to come back from your one-way trip that there will be a bike for you. So you will either wait for that bike (unknown wait time), or just take Muni back. Or click on Uber and get a cheap ride.

Will helmets be provided for each bike? I doubt it. I would not ride in downtown SF without a helmet, and I'd bet most people would act similarly.

The 700 bikes (plus the 300 add'l promised by year's end) are made in Canada. For a $7 million pilot at $10K per bike, they couldn't get these built in the US? I doubt the labor costs are much different in Canada than they are in the US. I can see once private money comes in, they'll get the cheapest Chinese bikes they can buy, that's fine; but for an overpriced pilot like these, the bike money should at least go back to a US bike maker.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Aug 12, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Cyclist The fees for overages may be too steep. It's something that the operator can adjust as needed. I'm disappointed they aren't giving annual members 45 minutes vs 30 minutes like the NYC program does. That's a nice incentive for buying an annual membership.

Helmets are not provided. In NYC many people bring their own, and Bike and Roll, a bike rental and tour company is also renting helmets. Web Link

As for the Bixi bikes, they've been in use in programs in over a dozen cities since 2009. I doubt they'll change manufacturing anytime soon. A competitive system B-Cycle has American company Trek as a sponsor, but I bet the actual bikes are made in China, not the US, since even many of Trek's high-end bikes are built there.

Posted by I know, right?, a resident of Cuernavaca,
on Aug 12, 2013 at 4:24 pm

did I just read in the above comments, someone posting multiple times, just to be negative, on a sunny Sunday morning, and telling other people how un-cool they are?

Too funny...and tre' cool!

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community,
on Aug 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm

It is a mistake to take $7 million and divide it by 700 bikes to get a cost per bike of $10000. The $7 million is for the whole program, which includes the parking stations, the fee collection process, people to administer the program, insurance, maintenance and spare parts, etc. The next 700 bikes will cost a lot less than $7 million.

Posted by Scott Lamb, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Aug 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

I don't understand why they've piloting it with so few bikes over such a wide area. It sounds practical only for biking from one station to another one, and best when you know there will be a bike waiting for you to return later. So why not concentrate all of the stations in San Francisco, with plenty of bikes per station? Then once that proves to be a success, expand. I think they've made a dumb move, but I hope the program is successful anyway.

Posted by Croc Dundee, a resident of another community,
on Aug 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Janet, I think you missed a digit in computing the average cost of the bikes in New York. $47,500,000 divided by 6,000 is $7,916.67 per bike. Yes, I understand that this average costs includes lots of things beside the bike, but it still illustrates the high cost of making one bike available for sharing, and that an increase in volume does not reduce the average cost all that much. Each bike must be maintained, tires and chains replaced, routine maintenance performed,and perhaps most expensive, moved by truck and people from station to station to try to match supply and demand. I have no doubt that people will ride a bike from the SF Train Station to the financial district. But that bike will need to be brought back several times in the morning to meet each wave of commuters. In the afternoon, they will have to be hauled from the train station to the financial district to be available for each wave of commuters (e.g. people leaving at 5, 5:30, 6, and 6:30) The trucks will be navigating through peak rush hour traffic each time, so relocating will probably take 20 minutes or so after the bikes are picked up.
Google maps estimates that it takes 11 minutes to bike from Caltrain to the Embarcadero BART station, and 26 minutes to walk it. I suspect that the 11 minutes during rush hour is optimistic because you will be delayed at each and every traffic signal along the way.
I am an experienced bicyclist, and I used to commute to near the SF Civic Center from the Inner Richmond/Golden Gate Park area, but I would not want to bike on 2nd and 3rd street during commute hours, particularly at dusk. Even if it were 15 minutes faster than walking, I would walk. But I suspect that biking will not be much faster than walking in that area. I currently commute 2.2 miles by bike in Sunnyvale, and it typically takes me 15 to 20 minutes to make the commute. I can go on side streets and only need to go through 4 signals, but I typically wait more than 2 minutes at each signal. This tells me that it will take a long time to go 1.6 miles in San Francisco rush hour traffic.
This will be used by a very small subset of taxpayers, each of whom will like it very much, but only because it will be subsidized by all the taxpayers. If they had to pay the true cost of the program, they wouldn't use the bikes.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Willowgate,
on Aug 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm

My first thought, being a nerd, is about logistics. What happens when you arrive at the Caltrain station for the morning commute and all of the placeholders for the bikes are filled? Do you ride the bike to some other bikeshare point and leave it there and walk back? As a previous poster mentioned, there will have to be a lot of shuffling back and forth of bicycles in a truck. Will the truck emit hydrocarbons?

Will you be able to go to a website or an app to find out how many bikes are still available at point X? Let's say I'm leaving home, my nearest bikeshare station is 3 blocks from my home. I get there and all the bikes are taken. Do I go back home and drive?

I guess they should not fill all bikeshare stations 100%. Otherwise you will have a problem when you arrive at point X.

Over time they will see patterns, maybe this will all work out as usage ramps up.

Posted by Anthony Moor, a resident of Whisman Station,
on Aug 20, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Great discussion. I'm concerned about the assertions here that private enterprise should be tapped to do this instead because government is so wasteful. If there were an obvious business model, they would have jumped in already. But we the people, the taxpayers often invest in things that private companies won't precisely because there isn't an obvious business model. It took the government to build the federal highway system, and it still isn't a money maker (but look at the businesses that were built on top of that!)

In this case, you probably wouldn't get the breadth of coverage without public investment. Our bus systems wouldn't be as extensive without public investment, for instance. Sure there are lots of bike rental places in SF, but they're all in the Marina, Fisherman's Wharf and Golden Gate Park. If you live on Taraval and 19th you can't find a bike rental place to pedal to the Stern Grove concerts.

Profitable or no, is this a waste because of its limited utility? The good news is there is evidence of pent up demand and growth potential from the other metro areas that have tried this. And where else is the weather just right for bike riding nearly every single day of the year? (Side note, it's even sponsorable - Barclays Bank was all over the new London bike system I rode this summer).

Clearly there will have to be tweaks to this launch, and I'm concerned about how sparse the initial coverage is too. But it's a start, and one that history says wouldn't have happened without our elected representatives and the government apparatus they oversee taking the risk on our behalf. Goodness knows we need more alternatives to auto transportation here, and one that's heart friendly, green, fun and on a pedestrian scale is certainly welcome.

Posted by resident, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:23 am

It's all part of our transportation system. Local government spend billions of your tax dollars on highways with no hope of making a profit. Those new merging ramps on Hwy 101 cost $100 million alone for just a few miles. That money came from general sales taxes, not any auto-specific taxes.

Adding bicycles to this mix should save taxpayers money in the long run since it reduces the need to build new publicly-funded roads and parking lots, which we don't have space for anyway.

The amount of money that this program is costing is really tiny compared to the potential benefits.

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community,
on Aug 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm

This is a public/private partnership. The operations are being managed by a private company, Alta Bike Share. You can see them at They have programs in a half dozen other cities. They can't come in and do this on their own because it requires use of public property, etc. The regional transit agencies and the Air Quality District have gotten together and organized the overall project and contracted the operations to Alta.

There are other companies that run bike share businesses. Look at the Wikipedia entries for bike share systems to learn more.

Posted by OC, a resident of Sylvan Park,
on Aug 25, 2013 at 10:26 pm

7 stations all within 3 mile around Cal train leaves little place to ride to unless you rent for the day. Web Link

Posted by resident, a resident of another community,
on Aug 26, 2013 at 12:24 am

There are 5 more stations in Palo Alto that you can bike to. Say goodbye to hunting for car parking spaces.

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