The transit-conscious Bay Area is finally hopping on the bike-sharing concept. Already popular in Europe and catching on in other American cities, public bike sharing makes its local debut next month. Residents, workers and tourists will have the opportunity to borrow bikes from strategically placed docking stations and make short-distance trips.
The program is to launch with 700 bikes and 70 automated stations in downtown areas and along the Caltrain rail corridor from San Francisco through Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. Within several months, the fleet is expected to grow to at least 1,000 bikes. The durable, one-size-fits-all cycles will feature seven speeds, wide seats and hand brakes. Headlights and taillights will automatically illuminate when the bike is pedaled.
But whether the one-year pilot becomes permanent or expands is unclear. Future funding is not secured. At least one bicycling group believes the program is starting too modestly to meet demand and attract adherents.
Launched in May, New York City’s Citi Bike boasts the largest program in the country with 6,000 bikes. By most accounts, it has proven a resounding success with cyclists taking more than 528,000 trips and pedaling in excess of a million miles, or the equivalent of circling the globe 50 times. Many European cities have operated bike-sharing systems for decades. The program in Paris, for instance, has more than 20,000 bikes at nearly 1,500 stations.
“We’re very excited it is coming,” said Aiko Cuenco, transportation planner for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, part of a multi-agency partnership that’s rolling out the $7 million pilot, Bay Area Bike Share. “We’ve been working on this for several years now.”
The program will be available 24 hours a day year-round to those who join as members. Membership rates include $88 for an annual pass, $22 for three days and $9 for one day. Each pass provides for unlimited trips. There’s no additional cost for the first 30 minutes of each trip. Trips that exceed 30 minutes will incur additional charges, encouraging short rides and keeping the bikes in constant use.
Organizers feel confident that the pilot will eventually develop into a full-fledged, sponsor-supported system. “This program has the potential to be the building block for a regional system,” said Damien Breen, director of strategic incentives at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the lead agency behind the pilot. “It can be as successful as in Europe.”
A day after membership sales opened to the public on July 15, more than 300 people had signed up. Ten days later, approximately 80 more had climbed on board. That indicates a strong interest in the program even as the official launch was still weeks away, said John Brazil, bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator for San Jose, which will start with 140 bikes at 14 stations.
But because robust demand is expected to continue, bicycling activist Leah Shahum believes the number of bikes that the program is starting off with is inadequate, especially in San Francisco.
“It needs to be grown quickly,” said Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “What we saw in other cities is that you don’t want to start off too small that it limits people’s usage.”
Of the initial 700 bikes program-wide, half will go to San Francisco. “But we should be growing San Francisco’s portion to 1,000 bikes within a year and 3,000 in two years” considering what has worked in other cities, Shahum said.
“You need coverage. You need density,” she said, adding that her organization is hearing not just from individuals but also from businesses whose employees can use bike sharing to go between offices or take care of quick personal errands during a break in the workday.
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