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Is Bay Area Bike Share Launching with Too Few Bikes?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - 04:43 PM

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Bay Area Bike Share will launch its pilot program on Thursday. The $7,000,000 program, which is run by the regional Bay Area Air Quality Management District and city transit agencies, will roll out 700 bikes at 70 kiosks in heavily trafficked commuter areas of San Francisco, San Jose, and three other Peninsula cities.

Half of the bikes will be in San Francisco and the other half will be spread out among the remaining cities. 

Yearly memberships run $88, three-day passes cost $22, and a 24-hour pass goes for $9. That's roughly the same as in other cities with similar programs also run by Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share. The bikes will be the same also. 

Members get an unlimited number of rides under 30 minutes, paying no charge if they return a bike to any dock within the half hour. After that, fees kick in, so you can pay as much as $150 if you hold onto a bike for a full 24 hours. 

The idea is to create high-turnover, so the bikes can get the most riders possible. It’s also to create a distinction between bike share, designed for commuters, and bike rental, which is for tourists mostly who want to ride around for a couple of hours. That distinction facing a little difficulty in New York, where bike rental companies can’t agree whether bike share has helped or hurt their business.

Bay Area Bike Share is starting relatively small—in contrast, New York’s Citi Bike program started with 6,000 bikes. The size has been a criticism since the pilot was announced. To work, bike share needs scale. The Washington D.C. bike share, for example, started too small and had to be overhauled and re-launched before it caught on. Back in March, San Francisco Bike Coalition communications director Kristin Smith said the small start could be cause for concern.

Karen Schkolnick, the program manager from BAAQMD, said she knows this is a problem, but the purpose of the pilot is to figure out how bike sharing works in the Bay Area. They’re already working to secure extra funding, and the San Francisco city supervisors voted to make expanding the program a priority for the SFMTA in 2014, and an extra 300 bikes are promised in the spring.

Schkolnick said it’s estimated that San Francisco could handle up to 3,000 bikes—meaning about half the city would have a kiosk within a few blocks.

“In the long term, we estimate that up to six to ten thousand bicycles could be accommodated in the Bay Area,” Schkolnick said. “That would probably not only include these five cities but many other cities and communities as well.”

As of Monday, 849 people have signed up for an annual pass.

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