Bay Area bike share starts August 29 – first/last mile for Caltrain riders?

The Bay Area Bike Share program is scheduled to go live on August 29.  At first launch, Caltrain is the spine of the system.  There are bicycle kiosks at San Jose Diridon and downtown San Jose , Mountain View downtown and San Antonio, Palo Alto downtown and California Avenue, Redwood City Caltrain and downtown.  The San Francisco sites are downtown near Caltrain and BART, at 4th and King by Caltrain, on Market Street near the BART stations, and points nearby.

San Jose Diridon Caltrain bike share station installation

San Jose Diridon Caltrain bike share installation – photo credit Richard Masoner/cyclelicious

Bike Share station at Redwood City Caltrain - photo credit Mike Sonn

Bike Share station at Redwood City Caltrain – photo credit Mike Sonn

Bike share and Caltrain seem like a logical fit, because many destinations are easy cycling distance, but further than comfortable walking distance.  Twelve percent of Caltrain riders already use a bike with Caltrain, because you can easily get to and from many more useful places from the train.  According to a SPUR report, 80% of jobs are within 3 miles of Caltrain or BART.

The DC bike share system serves this first/last mile role, according according to an annual study of Capital Bikeshare. Over half (54%) of respondents said at least one of the bikeshare trips they made in the previous month either started or ended at a Metrorail station.  And about a quarter (23%) of respondents used Capital Bikeshare to access bus in the past month. Most of the users are locals, not tourists from out of town. Also, in the DC area, bike share is not just for commuting. – Seven in ten respondents reported that they at least occasionally use bikeshare for social/entertainment and errands/personal appointments trips. And 58% of respondents use bikeshare to go to/from work.

Will there be enough bikes in the right places?

But riders are asking whether there are going to be enough bikes, and bikes in the right places, to make the system successful. The Bay Area bike share system will start with 700 bicycles, 350 in San Francisco, 150 bikes in San Jose, and 200 all together in Redwood City, Palo Alto, and Mountain View.

The total number of bikes is expected to expanding to 1000 in the first quarter of 2014.   By contrast, there are over 1800 bikes in the DC area (population 600,000 in DC, ~6million metro), and Vancouver plans 1500 with a population of 600,000 and a metro of 2.3 million.  The City of San Francisco’s goal is 3000 bikes.

On the Peninsula, people are concerned not just about the number of bicycles but their locations.  For example, NEST is a co-working space and technology incubator in Redwood City, about two miles from the Caltrain.  Employees would love to be able to ride to work, and to use a bike share bike for lunch downtown. But the current rules don’t allow employment locations to have stations.

In an urban center, the rule of thumb is to place bike share stations within walking distance of each other, within 1000 feet, so if one station is out of bikes (or full), you can pick up (or return) to another.  But on the Caltrain corridor, there are many destinations that are a half-mile or a mile away. In the Caltrain corridor places aren’t spread as far apart as Cupertino or South San Jose.  But requiring stations to be within close walking distance misses key destinations.

Mountain View Bike Share Locations

Mountain View bike share stations

Redwood City Bike Share Locations

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 2.37.39 PM

Does the pricing model fit the Peninsula land use?

Pricing is designed to encourage very short trips.   Users pay $88 for an annual membership (or $99 in monthly installments). The first 30 minutes are free to ride, the next 30 minutes cost $4, and each additional 30 minutes is $7. People who are visiting, or want to try out the system, can get a 24-hour membership for $9 or a 3-day membership for $22..

This pricing model seems like it would work well for a downtown area. But what about running lunchtime errands, or meeting for lunch?  How many people on the Peninsula running errands will run into the 61 minute penalty?

How to fund expansion?

Anecdotally, employers and real estate developers have told Friends of Caltrain that they would be willing and eager to set up bike share pods at their locations.  Employers already subsidize shuttle service at a cost of over $5 per ride in San Mateo County. And even at $50,000 per 10-bike pod, supporting bike share bikes is cheaper than vehicle parking spaces, which cost $20,000 to over $60,000 per vehicle space.   Bike share helps transit commuters who want to run errands or go out for lunch during the day, without having to drive to work just to get out of the office.

One of the reasons the system is starting small is funding.  Funding for the initial regional pilot project is through grants with major funding coming from a $4.3 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Bay Area Climate Initiatives Program (BACI). The MTC has added another $2.8 million last month to help expand the program to 1,000 bikes, its original goal, in early 2014, adding 150 bikes in San Francisco and 100 in other locations.

To fund expansion Bay Area Bike Share is seeking corporate sponsorship, as with CitiBike in New York City. Unfortunately, the current sponsorship model being pursued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District poses a challenge for public locations, and for companies who want to spot bike share bikes for their employees and neighbors.

With CitiBike-style sponsorship, kiosks would carry advertising from the sponsor.  Some cities have policies that disallow  allowed to posting advertising on public property. And some companies don’t want to host the advertising either.   Just as many web applications allow users to pay money and forego advertising, perhaps the Bay Area Bike share program should allow cities or employers to put up money and avoid the ads.

The San Francisco bike share program went through a methodical process with public feedback to select where to put the bike share bikes, analyzing factors including hills, employment density, population density, transit access, bike infrastructure, cycling rate, zoning and more, and gathering data with a crowdsourcing map. The process to select sites on the Peninsula has been less data-driven and less public to date.

 Bike Commuting

In the zoning analysis, locations zoned for mixed use, downtown, and neighborhood commercial received the highest ratings, since mixed use locations generate short trips, and the commercial locations are more likely to attract trips.


What do you think?  

Do you use a bike with Caltrain?  Are you looking forward to the bike share program, or is it not for you?  Would you want locations that aren’t on the current map? What locations are you looking for?  Fill out this survey and help create a picture of the bike share program you want to have.

If the Bay Area Bike share program is underutilized because of these flaws, the risk is that it will get shut down.  It will be important to have users speak up for improving bike share instead of killing it.