News

Kicking the tires

Council debates Bike Share's future amid low ridership, new costs

With outside grants set to expire, the cost of the Bike Share self-service bicycle-rental program will have to be shouldered by Mountain View if it continues. But in reviewing the system's numbers last Tuesday night, City Council members voiced serious concerns, especially after they learned the system's underwhelming ridership meant the city would essentially be spending $19.50 for each bike trip.

Launched in Mountain View about three years ago, Bike Share offers an easy-to-use system renting out bicycles to ride between the seven stations scattered throughout town. Riders can check out a loaner bike at a cost of a $88 yearlong membership or a $9 one-day pass.

More than 840,000 bike trips have been logged in the system since it first debuted in the Bay Area in 2013, but the whopping majority has been in San Francisco. Other Bay Area cities that signed up for the program saw disappointing participation numbers. On an average day, only about one-third of Mountain View's Bike Share fleet are rented out for a single ride. It's even worse in Redwood City, where fewer than one in 10 bikes are ridden each day.

Exactly why the program failed to draw more riders is unknown, but city officials offered some possibilities. With only seven docking stations within city limits, riders have limited options for where they could travel. In Mountain View, many commuters at the city's largest tech firms likely had little reason to pay for a bike rental when their companies provide complimentary bicycles to ride around town -- think of the ubiquitous Google bikes. In total, Mountain View has 350 annual Bike Share members.

In its short history, the Bay Area Bike Share program has already had a bumpy ride. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District originally started the service as a $7 million pilot program in Mountain View, but that responsibility was handed off last year to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Meanwhile, Bixi, the Montreal-based company that built and managed most of the Bike Share systems across North America, declared bankruptcy in 2014. A second private company -- New York-based Motivate International -- took over operations and reorganized its supply chain.

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Around the time it took control, Motivate touted plans to grow the number of Bike Share bicycles by tenfold in the Bay Area by 2017. But that expansion included only San Francisco, San Jose and the Oakland area. By late last year, Mountain View city staff members say they learned that MTC and its corporate partners would no longer continue funding the service. If Mountain View wanted to keep the program, it now had to pay for it or else Motivate would begin removing all the stations and the bike fleet by July, said transportation manager Linda Forsberg.

On May 17, the Mountain View City Council was presented with "stopgap" plans to keep the Bike Share service going while a longer-term agreement could be negotiated. As part of this deal, Motivate officials agreed to work with Mountain View on an extension through November. After that, the city would have to negotiate a new Bike Share contract with Motivate that would extend through June of 2017. At a cost of $13,300 per month, city staff estimated Mountain View would need $160,000 to keep the Bike Share system going for this period.

During that time, city staffers said they would work on ways to retool the service, perhaps in cooperation with nearby cities, in the hopes of finding a superior system that would attract more riders.

"Quite bluntly, we see this as stopgap -- We believe in the value of Bike Share, but we don't believe the current configuration makes sense," said City Manager Dan Rich. "It's my expectation that one year from now it's unlikely we'll have a continuation of the same system."

But the idea of subsidizing an underused program clearly miffed council members. Doing some simple division, city staff said the cost would break down to $19.50 per rider. At that price, it almost makes sense for Mountain View to just buy a fleet of bikes and dole them out to people, some council members suggested. A nice bike could be bought for just $500, said Mayor Pat Showalter. But she said it ultimately made sense to keep Bike Share going if the system could be fine-tuned into a viable transit option.

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"While that's a steep number, I think what we're trying to do here is bring about social change." she said. "It'd be much more powerful system if you could ride to Caltrain, ride up to Redwood City and ride out to Facebook."

But was that line of thinking just throwing good money after bad? Councilman John McAlister suggested his colleagues were being foolhardy if they thought a proven failure could now be revitalized. Even bike-friendly Palo Alto was seeing dismal ridership numbers for its Bike Share, he pointed out.

"One company went bankrupt; MTC wants to pull the plug; and now we're on our third lifespan with this program," he said. "I don't see how this operation will change between now and (next) July."

The city would still receive some aid in paying to continue Bike Share. The local Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit consortium of the city's tech firms and developers, announced it would contribute $60,000 toward keeping Bike Share alive and upgrading the system for the future. Speaking for the group, Tom Harrington of Intuit said city officials were essentially free to use the money as they saw fit.

The Bike Share decision came to a tight vote. Councilman John Inks was firmly opposed to continuing the program, but McAlister's stance was more nuanced. He supported allowing staff to continue negotiations with Motivate to retain and upgrade the Bike Share system, but he couldn't support the city paying $160,000 for it. With Councilman Mike Kasperzak absent for the meeting, that resulted in a 4-2 split, just short of the five votes needed for the council to allocate money.

After approving all the other staff recommendations, the council agreed to reconsider paying for the Bike Share service at the Tuesday, May 24 meeting when all seven members will be present.

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Kicking the tires

Council debates Bike Share's future amid low ridership, new costs

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, May 24, 2016, 8:58 am

With outside grants set to expire, the cost of the Bike Share self-service bicycle-rental program will have to be shouldered by Mountain View if it continues. But in reviewing the system's numbers last Tuesday night, City Council members voiced serious concerns, especially after they learned the system's underwhelming ridership meant the city would essentially be spending $19.50 for each bike trip.

Launched in Mountain View about three years ago, Bike Share offers an easy-to-use system renting out bicycles to ride between the seven stations scattered throughout town. Riders can check out a loaner bike at a cost of a $88 yearlong membership or a $9 one-day pass.

More than 840,000 bike trips have been logged in the system since it first debuted in the Bay Area in 2013, but the whopping majority has been in San Francisco. Other Bay Area cities that signed up for the program saw disappointing participation numbers. On an average day, only about one-third of Mountain View's Bike Share fleet are rented out for a single ride. It's even worse in Redwood City, where fewer than one in 10 bikes are ridden each day.

Exactly why the program failed to draw more riders is unknown, but city officials offered some possibilities. With only seven docking stations within city limits, riders have limited options for where they could travel. In Mountain View, many commuters at the city's largest tech firms likely had little reason to pay for a bike rental when their companies provide complimentary bicycles to ride around town -- think of the ubiquitous Google bikes. In total, Mountain View has 350 annual Bike Share members.

In its short history, the Bay Area Bike Share program has already had a bumpy ride. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District originally started the service as a $7 million pilot program in Mountain View, but that responsibility was handed off last year to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Meanwhile, Bixi, the Montreal-based company that built and managed most of the Bike Share systems across North America, declared bankruptcy in 2014. A second private company -- New York-based Motivate International -- took over operations and reorganized its supply chain.

Around the time it took control, Motivate touted plans to grow the number of Bike Share bicycles by tenfold in the Bay Area by 2017. But that expansion included only San Francisco, San Jose and the Oakland area. By late last year, Mountain View city staff members say they learned that MTC and its corporate partners would no longer continue funding the service. If Mountain View wanted to keep the program, it now had to pay for it or else Motivate would begin removing all the stations and the bike fleet by July, said transportation manager Linda Forsberg.

On May 17, the Mountain View City Council was presented with "stopgap" plans to keep the Bike Share service going while a longer-term agreement could be negotiated. As part of this deal, Motivate officials agreed to work with Mountain View on an extension through November. After that, the city would have to negotiate a new Bike Share contract with Motivate that would extend through June of 2017. At a cost of $13,300 per month, city staff estimated Mountain View would need $160,000 to keep the Bike Share system going for this period.

During that time, city staffers said they would work on ways to retool the service, perhaps in cooperation with nearby cities, in the hopes of finding a superior system that would attract more riders.

"Quite bluntly, we see this as stopgap -- We believe in the value of Bike Share, but we don't believe the current configuration makes sense," said City Manager Dan Rich. "It's my expectation that one year from now it's unlikely we'll have a continuation of the same system."

But the idea of subsidizing an underused program clearly miffed council members. Doing some simple division, city staff said the cost would break down to $19.50 per rider. At that price, it almost makes sense for Mountain View to just buy a fleet of bikes and dole them out to people, some council members suggested. A nice bike could be bought for just $500, said Mayor Pat Showalter. But she said it ultimately made sense to keep Bike Share going if the system could be fine-tuned into a viable transit option.

"While that's a steep number, I think what we're trying to do here is bring about social change." she said. "It'd be much more powerful system if you could ride to Caltrain, ride up to Redwood City and ride out to Facebook."

But was that line of thinking just throwing good money after bad? Councilman John McAlister suggested his colleagues were being foolhardy if they thought a proven failure could now be revitalized. Even bike-friendly Palo Alto was seeing dismal ridership numbers for its Bike Share, he pointed out.

"One company went bankrupt; MTC wants to pull the plug; and now we're on our third lifespan with this program," he said. "I don't see how this operation will change between now and (next) July."

The city would still receive some aid in paying to continue Bike Share. The local Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit consortium of the city's tech firms and developers, announced it would contribute $60,000 toward keeping Bike Share alive and upgrading the system for the future. Speaking for the group, Tom Harrington of Intuit said city officials were essentially free to use the money as they saw fit.

The Bike Share decision came to a tight vote. Councilman John Inks was firmly opposed to continuing the program, but McAlister's stance was more nuanced. He supported allowing staff to continue negotiations with Motivate to retain and upgrade the Bike Share system, but he couldn't support the city paying $160,000 for it. With Councilman Mike Kasperzak absent for the meeting, that resulted in a 4-2 split, just short of the five votes needed for the council to allocate money.

After approving all the other staff recommendations, the council agreed to reconsider paying for the Bike Share service at the Tuesday, May 24 meeting when all seven members will be present.

Comments

Spend it on bike infrastructure
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 9:13 am
Spend it on bike infrastructure, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 9:13 am

I'm an AVID cyclist, and though bike shares may work in other areas or countries, there is simply no point in extending the program if the numbers are correct, and i don't doubt they are. Bike ridership continues to grow, aside from this program, so any monies earmarked for this program should be spent on the planned bike infrastructure improvements.
It was good to give it a shot and really see the results, but obviously it's not a good fit in MV. That is bad for the people who run the bike share company, but good news for cyclists in general in MV.


Ken M
Jackson Park
on May 24, 2016 at 11:02 am
Ken M, Jackson Park
on May 24, 2016 at 11:02 am

I find it easier to use a car.


Game O'Thrones
Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2016 at 11:53 am
Game O'Thrones, Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2016 at 11:53 am

I could have told you this wasn't going to work. It was a stupid idea from the beginning!


resident
Shoreline West
on May 24, 2016 at 12:05 pm
resident, Shoreline West
on May 24, 2016 at 12:05 pm

The city should have known from the beginning that a system with so few bike share stations was doomed to fail. The system was really useless for residents trying to get around town.


PA Resident
another community
on May 24, 2016 at 1:32 pm
PA Resident, another community
on May 24, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Just as in Palo Alto, these bike share programs are not working because they do not suit the need of residents or of those arriving in town by public transport. I read recently of one system in the Bay area where the bikes can be left at any bike rack not a designated rack.

If there was a place to rent them near where I live, I may ride them to the Caltrain station, but they are not where I live. If they were near the high schools, the students might ride them to school and not have to worry about bikes being stolen, flat tires, or other maintenance issues.

These are not working because there is no real reason for anyone to use them. Unless someone arriving at a station and can drop them off where they have to end their journey, then they are useless.


Focus on real bikes
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 2:02 pm
Focus on real bikes, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Good. Very good in fact. Now there is more money and focus for real bike programs. The numbers of riders keeps growing so it's good future discussions won't be cluttered with these silly blue bikes.


Eric
another community
on May 24, 2016 at 2:18 pm
Eric, another community
on May 24, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Zero thought or planning went in to the locations of the kiosks. Who exactly is the fleet of bikes at the El Camino end of Castro meant for?

Bike commuting is something I wish I could personally take advantage of-- it's an important niche (though only a niche). The failure of a poorly designed program shouldn't be a reflection on the whole concept


A neighbor
Whisman Station
on May 24, 2016 at 2:44 pm
A neighbor, Whisman Station
on May 24, 2016 at 2:44 pm

I'm an avid cyclist and have used bike share programs in other states and countries.
I feel for a bike share program to be successful, there needs to be a significant number of docking stations near common start points and end points. The program isn't user friendly if the user has to walk more than a few blocks to get/park the bike.


Not suited for here
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 2:50 pm
Not suited for here, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 2:50 pm

I think the Google bike "program" is a good one for comparison, and yes I know Google bikes are for employees, but bear with me.
In the area, there are so many bikes available anywhere you look in the area, people use them all the time. The fact that they are free must also not be overlooked.
The problem is that expanding such a program over a broad area would be financially prohibitive.


OMV Cyclist
Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2016 at 3:08 pm
OMV Cyclist, Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2016 at 3:08 pm

I have used City Bike Share since it's inception to commute from the San Francisco 4th and King station to my office in San Francisco. It's perfect for this. As has bee noted in many of the comments, the MV version was destined to fail because there are so few stations. This system is intended to be used for getting around town or to/from public transportation. With only 9 stations in MV and nearly all of them near public transportation, the other end of the system, in residential areas, does not exist. If stations were extended West of El Camino and East of Central Expwy to enable one-way trips to/from downtown and public transportation, there would be a possibility of success. You need a network to get the network effect!

The Google bike program is not a fair comparison as Google spend a lot of $$ on replacing stolen or broken bikes every month.


Last mile problem
Monta Loma
on May 24, 2016 at 3:21 pm
Last mile problem, Monta Loma
on May 24, 2016 at 3:21 pm

Like all public transportation in any sprawling area (e.g. Bay Area), public bikes are a last mile problem. But if they can't take you door to door, then in most cases it will be faster to use other methods. I can see this working in a city like SF, but not here.

I believe one other problem with them is that people are tired of getting nickeled and dimed for everything. Like the example of the bike station at the ECR end of Castro, this could be for people who get off the train and want to bike from one end of Castro to the other. But who is going to pay $9/day for that privilege? I think a cost per hour or cost per mile structure would make more sense than a flat rate, IMHO.


jim in Waverly park
Waverly Park
on May 24, 2016 at 5:43 pm
jim in Waverly park , Waverly Park
on May 24, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Agree with comments above.
I used bike share regularly when I lived in London. It is a BRILLIANT system.

I took time to lobby the Bike Share folks here to put a station by the hospital so I could ride to Caltrain, but they were unmoved. Makes ZERO sense to only have bike stations along the train corridor. Put stations at hospital, high school, miramonte shopping, loyola corner, etc and people can get to/from the residential areas and downtown/train. I would have used many times to/from Waverly but ended up taking Uber instead.


eric
another community
on May 24, 2016 at 6:55 pm
eric, another community
on May 24, 2016 at 6:55 pm

Imagine how much more bang for the buck the city could get if they spent $100k on some bike repair events and better bike racks at the train station. Give out vouchers for discount train tickets, etc. I mean, really, most people who are going to consider using a bike as a 'last mile' solution PROBABLY own a bike. Or could pick up a cheap one


the_punnisher
Registered user
Whisman Station
on May 24, 2016 at 8:07 pm
the_punnisher, Whisman Station
Registered user
on May 24, 2016 at 8:07 pm

Check out Denver's B-Cycle system website. Then note the other cities with a B-Cycle operation. Many more stations in each city is the key advantage of this system. Note that the prices you pay are the same without the many stations that B-Cycle has.

Web Link

Personal Bike----RTD Light Rail Station Bike locker-----Downtown B-Cycle------Work Near/At B-Cycle Station.

Maybe Mountain View has been dealing with the wrong people.


Jeff
another community
on May 24, 2016 at 8:24 pm
Jeff, another community
on May 24, 2016 at 8:24 pm

It doesn't take much time to walk the length of downtown. The east side of 101 is served by light rail. Who was expected to rent a bike? It seems like this program was more of a display of action than a thoughtful alternative transportation effort.


ex-Hooli person
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 9:09 pm
ex-Hooli person, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 9:09 pm

This implementation took a great idea and redesigned it for failure. By comparison, the system in Vienna has a 1€ registration fee, the first hour is free and the second hour is another 1€. The Mountain View registration fee is absurdly high and the hourly rates are absurdly high. I understand that it's expensive to maintain this fleet but this is supposed to be a subsidized social good to facilitate mass transit, not a profit-making venture. Beyond that, the Mountain View system goes from nowhere to nowhere. The cynic in me believes that no one ever believed in this system; it was just a way to waste and pocket some grant money. That's a shame; I love the bike share systems in European cities like Paris.


ex-Hooli person
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 9:11 pm
ex-Hooli person, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 9:11 pm

Followup note: The comment system doesn't handle unicode characters gracefully. That's one euro for registration, one euro for the second hour of bike rental in Vienna.


bjd
Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2016 at 9:59 pm
bjd, Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2016 at 9:59 pm

I believe user density is too low for most of the city. A bike share in SF can serve 10x the riders. One bike sharer becomes ten, enough for a station to be viable.

I agree with previous comments that the money could be very well spent improving biking for bike owners. Better lanes (protected where possible), more bike parking, a few repair stations would be great. Make biking safer and more visible to get people to think that biking is a possibility.


one who knows
Blossom Valley
on May 25, 2016 at 9:38 am
one who knows, Blossom Valley
on May 25, 2016 at 9:38 am

More stations would be nice, if only to remove further objections by people who have no intention of using the bikes anyways. Which reveals the more fundamental point: there are far too few people here that actually want to, or have reason to, ride a bike to work, or to downtown, etc. Most people would rather jump in a car and drive themselves even a mile. That's a shame, but that's a fact, and until we stop treating the needs of such people as the top priority in traffic engineering, it's not going to change.


One who knows more
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 25, 2016 at 2:09 pm
One who knows more, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 25, 2016 at 2:09 pm

you must have missed all the bike route improvement stories


one who disagrees
Blossom Valley
on May 25, 2016 at 7:25 pm
one who disagrees, Blossom Valley
on May 25, 2016 at 7:25 pm

I'm not sure you understood the words that I used.


The rest who agree
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 26, 2016 at 5:44 am
The rest who agree, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 26, 2016 at 5:44 am

^^^^^There is always one^^^^^


avid biker
Rengstorff Park
on May 26, 2016 at 9:51 am
avid biker, Rengstorff Park
on May 26, 2016 at 9:51 am

This is a stupid program. It should be designed for people who don't own bikes, like workers who want to get somewhere, not residents who likely already own a bike. The fact that it fails with private management should tell you something. Like it wont work . So public management will just suck tax dollars away from more useful spending.


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