The 700-bike system extends from key train stations on the Peninsula — San Francisco, Redwood City, Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose. It will be run by the Alta Bike Share, the same company responsible for New York's new system. That system made headlines when complaints poured in about the number of automated bike stalls that wouldn't release bikes or take them back, frustrating commuters and tourists and giving the system the nickname "Glitchy bike."
"Alta has assured us that they've done a software patch so that doesn't happen here," said Damian Breen of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, one of a half-dozen government agencies cooperating on the project. He added that Alta had managed to repair all of the faulty stations in New York.
What may disappoint users is finding empty racks. Officials admit there may not be enough bikes to meet demand and are quick to remind people that this is a "pilot" project. A second phase is in the works to add another 300 bikes.
"When you consider what we were funded to do with this grant we received, we were very successful," Breen said of the system, whose planning stretches back to 2009. "What we're launching is a pilot. This system could be a building block for a larger and Bay Area-wide system. The directors from our board and a lot of our leaders in the Bay Area would like to see this system become larger."
Palo Alto will receive 100 rental bikes, with the majority located at the downtown train station and on the Stanford University campus.
Breen said corporate sponsorship of the system may help fund the system's expansion, as was done in New York, where the bikes have the name of a well-known bank painted on them.
Aiko Cuenco of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority said bike sharing could be considered "an extension of the transit system," providing a connection from train stations, for example, to wherever someone is going in the "last mile" of their journey.
"We price it in such a way that people don't keep the bike any longer than is needed," Cuenco said. "It's not a rental system; it's an extension of the transit system."
The system encourages short rides by not charging for rides of 30 minutes or less. Hour-long rides are $4, and every half-hour after that costs $7. Those looking to ride for longer periods can get around the time limit by riding to another station and switching to another bike.
The system works for anyone with a credit card and at least $9, which is the cost of a 24-hour membership. There's also a $22 three-day membership and an $88 annual membership.
The system will be up and running next month, though an exact date has yet to be announced.
The pilot program is funded through local and regional grants in combination with a $4.3 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Climate Initiatives Grant program.
More information is available at www.bayareabikeshare.com.