Bay Area Bike Sharing Moves Closer to Reality

By Molly Schremmer
March 25, 2013

One of the 175 stations in Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare program. Photo courtesy flickr user Stephen Rees.

After a number of delays, the wheels are finally turning on a bike-sharing program for the Bay Area. Earlier this month, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) signed a contract with Alta Bike Share, which runs successful programs in Washington, D.C., and Boston. A Bay Area pilot program will launch this summer for two years of testing with 700 bikes at 70 locations from San Jose to San Francisco.

Bike sharing allows anyone to rent a bicycle from a self-serve kiosk and drop it off at another location, providing guaranteed bike access without worries about damage, theft or maintenance. Programs have been geared toward tourists in cities like Paris, but they also have great potential to help locals solve the “last mile” problem — the difficulty of getting commuters from a transit hub to their final destination.

The Bay Area’s pilot will be the first regional program in the country — a detail that created complications and delayed the program, originally expected to begin in 2012. Structured around Caltrain, it will put an estimated 50 locations in downtown San Francisco and about two dozen more near Caltrain stations in Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. BAAQMD is seeking sponsorships to expand the system. Meanwhile, SF Supervisor Scott Wiener is lobbying to extend the dowtown San Francisco part of the pilot across the city. A successful bikesharing program requires a strong business model and considers: close proximity to increased population and job densities; an optimal distribution of bikes (ideally around 50 percent bikes to 50 percent open docks); locations no more than one-half mile apart; and affordable and strategic pricing that promotes ridership.

Locating the bike sharing stations around Caltrain has the potential to change the state of commuting in the Bay Area. As we noted in our report The Urban Future of Work, 80 percent of office buildings in the Bay Area are within three miles of regional transit, but only 11 percent of commuters take transit to work. The option to add a short bike ride to the end of a trip could turn rail commuting into a viable option for a much greater number of people. Though it’s focused on Caltrain stations, the program’s concentration of downtown SF locations could also make it useful to BART riders, who are not yet allowed to bring bicycles on trains during rush hour. We look forward to testing the possibilities this summer.

Learn more about the pilot program >>