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Bay Area Bike Share Expansion Stalls

| August 29, 2014
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A bike-share station on Market Street is next to the Powell Street BART Station. (Mark Andrew Boyer)

A bike-share station on Market Street is next to the Powell Street BART Station. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

One year after the sturdy, light-blue bikes first hit the streets, Bay Area Bike Share is being deemed a success. But the system’s long-anticipated expansion remains stalled because the supplier filed for bankruptcy and the company that operates it is restructuring.

Since the system launched on Aug. 29, 2013, with 700 bikes at 70 stations in San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose, more than 32,000 people have taken 300,000 trips, traveling a total of 630,000 miles, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“I think it’s gone really well,” said Heath Maddox, a bike-share planner at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “We would like it to be bigger, and so would everybody. But if that’s the chief complaint, I’m satisfied at this point.”

The benefit of starting smaller and later than anticipated was that software bugs, which plagued bike-share systems in New York and Chicago, could be worked out, said Maddox. Air district officials say the system now has 5,000 annual members and 28,000 “casual” members.

A data challenge that drew 35 entries offers some creative visualizations of trip patterns. The bulk of trips have taken place in San Francisco, with its 35 stations. Daily ridership broke a record Monday, topping more than 1,200 trips, said Maddox.

Shelby Larochelle from Canada, Hajnalka Domjan from Hungary, and Maria Camajova  from Slovakia rent bikes in San Francisco. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

From left: Shelby Larochelle of Canada, Hajnalka Domjan of Hungary and Maria Camajova of Slovakia rent bikes in San Francisco. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

Andrew Stitt of Alameda was spotted docking a bike at the Civic Center station Tuesday. He said he uses Bay Area Bike Share to complete the last leg of his commute from BART to his job as a software engineer in SoMa.

“I think it’s awesome that we have a system that allows people to make these last-mile connections so they can get out of their cars, get on their bikes, but not have to worry about lugging their bike everywhere or it getting stolen,” said Stitt.

The bikes are being used in San Francisco an average of three times a day. “We’d like to see double that, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the bikes to be used at that level of intensity when the system is as constrained as it is,” said Maddox.

An expansion to 1,000 bikes systemwide is currently funded. This includes 17 more stations in San Francisco, including locations in the Castro and Mission. Other locations for stations are still being worked out.

Beyond those plans, SFMTA officials hope to launch an additional 250 stations and 3,000 bikes in San Francsico, at a cost of $25 million. The city is currently seeking private funding for that.

Although several companies have come forward, Maddox said the city has been unable to move talks forward because of the uncertain future of Public Bike System Company (PBSC), a Canadian firm that supplies the bikes and software to the Bay Area, as well as bike-share programs in other U.S. cities.

“The industry is going through some upheaval,” explained Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the air district, which oversees Bay Area Bike Share. He said the operator, Alta Bike Share, is restructuring and that PBSC filed for bankruptcy and was sold.

“I think long term this will actually benefit the industry, in terms of bringing new technology, new manufacturers, and opening a startup culture and providing more options for the future,” said Borrmann.

A spokeswoman for Alta Bike Share said she could not comment, and PBSC did not respond to a request for an interview. It’s unknown at this point when production of the bikes, stations and software will start up again.

John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which plans to take over administering the program, said more bikes could be on the ground within the next 18 to 24 months.

Planning, meanwhile, has begun to expand to the East Bay by September 2016. Between 600 to 700 bikes would be placed at up to 70 stations in Oakland and Berkeley, with a few stations in Emeryville, said Goodwin.

The slow pace of expansion has left some members frustrated. Yosh Asato of San Francisco was returning a bike to the Van Ness Avenue station Tuesday. She said she works downtown, where she can’t bring a bike into the office, and uses bike share frequently to get around the city.

“I think starting small was a good idea,” said Asato. “It meant that we had a small system that runs well, but the delay in the expansion has been a disappointment. If it doesn’t expand soon, they’re going to lose momentum.”

Beth and Brad Maloney rent bikes from a station in downtown San Francisco. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

Beth and Brad Maloney rent bikes from a station in downtown San Francisco. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

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About the Author ()

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco and a producer and anchor at KCBS radio. He's a lifelong Californian and over his 20-year radio career has worked at stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento. Reach Bryan Goebel at bgoebel@KQED.org.
  • saimin

    I live in Palo Alto and I have to say that Bike Share is awful down here. Only a few blocks around the Caltrain stations have Bike Share stations, making the system useless to most residents who have lengthy walks to reach their nearest station. Maybe it works OK for people who arrive in town via Caltrain, but personally I see less than 1 person a week riding these bikes in town.

    I can see Bike Share becoming useful if they add more stations in residential areas and neighborhood shopping districts. Is this ever going to happen? I would love to use Bike Share to get downtown instead of hunting for car parking space or risking having my personal bicycle stolen.

  • KJ

    I agree with saimin regarding the Peninsula stations. Re. Redwood City, the bike stations are still all clustered within about 3/4 of a mile; they really should spread the bikes farther out into the neighborhoods, perhaps with a station at Red Morton Park at Hudson and another at Woodside Road and Hudson, for example. The downtown itself is very walkable, so you don’t really need a bike once you’re there.

  • John McCreight

    I commute into Mountain View, and would use these if they had some utility with commuting. My current employer is about 2 miles away from Caltrain, which would be perfect for bikes – but then I have to return it within 30 minutes to…where I got it?

    I wish there were a plan that permitted workday use somehow.

    • Parker

      The idea is that you would no dock it at the same station you got it from. Instead you use a dock close to your destination. The idea is to share the bikes, not use them for an entire day.

      • bike dude

        Parker, you’re missing the point. There is no station near his destination. Until there is sufficient density, the 30 min rule means “wow, I can take a bike at the station, ride it around for 29 minutes and return it to the station” becaus the staton (typically train station) is th ONLY place to pick-up / return these bikes. So they might be OK for shoppers, but for commuters like Parker they are USELESS.

        • Parker

          That’s not true at all. And while it would be nice to build out the system, it isn’t possible yet. In fact that’s what this whole article is about. Perhaps you should read it.

          • John McCreight

            Parker, I get it, believe me. I understand how the sharing thing is supposed to work. This is more me idly wishing it could somehow accommodate business travel during the work week. As it stands, the intended use case as you put it is impossible to use as a commuter. I’d be willing to pay more for the opportunity to have it during the work day and return it later in lieu of additional stations. (But not crazy money like it adds up to now.)

            Maybe this program just isn’t the right fit for commuters, and something else could be? Any ideas for what alternatives would look like? Genuinely interested in more useful public transit.

          • you troll, I troll

            It does seem fairly illogical to expect that he could commute two hours to work on a bike and then have no place to park it. I think that is the point. If he rode it to work, he needs to stay at work, not ride it back to the docking station. So perhaps that is not what this article is about (directly), but it is the subject of the comment You commented on, so “Perhaps you should read it” before replying to a comment!

    • Erica_JS

      How big is your employer? Is it possible they might sponsor a bikeshare dock for employees?

  • Nathan

    Sadly this is due to corruption in the Montreal municipal government where this bike share program BIXI (BIcyle taXI) began. There the system covers the entire city and is widely used, but thanks to shady back room deals ended up in bankruptcy while a few people walked away with millions. Its sad to see that the greed of a few has had ripple effects as far as San Francisco.