Bike Share's expansion plan leaves Palo Alto behind

Program eyes East Bay and San Francisco as destinations for growth

As the Bay Area's fledgling bike-share program prepares for a colossal regional expansion, its presence in Palo Alto may soon come to an end because of underwhelming ridership numbers.

Bay Area Bike Share, which allows customers to rent out bikes and return them at any other station in the city, rolled out in August 2013 as a partnership between the Bay Area Quality Management Air District, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and various Bay Area transportation agencies. So far, about $8.7 million has been spent on the program out of the $11.4 million budget, with the lion's share coming from the MTC.

The results so far have been promising, but very uneven. As of March 1, the system yielded a total of 485,000 trips in the five pilot cities (Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose, San Francisco and Redwood City), with San Francisco far ahead of the pack. According to the MTC data, riders in San Francisco took 436,000 trips since the program's inception, or 90 percent of the program's total. The city employs 328 bikes, almost half of the program's entire fleet.

Yet on the Peninsula, the program didn't really catch on. Palo Alto, where city officials are eagerly pushing ahead with more than a dozen bike-improvement projects, the Bike Share numbers have been comparatively woeful.

According to MTC data, a Palo Alto bike has a usage rate of 0.21 trips per day, fewer than both Mountain View (0.48) and San Jose (0.39). In San Francisco, which has 380 bikes, the rate is 2.6 daily trips per bike. Since the program launched in 2013, Palo Alto has experienced fewer than 5,000 total trips. This includes about 500 between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2014, MTC data shows.

The data is becoming increasingly relevant these days as the MTC and its partner agencies are planning a ten-fold expansion in the Bike Share system. The new proposal, which the MTC's Administrative Committee is set to discuss Wednesday, would deploy 7,000 bikes and expand the program to Berkeley, Oakland and Emeryville.

Under the proposal laid out in a new report from MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger, San Francisco would have about 4,500 bikes, while San Jose and Oakland would have 1,000 and 850, respectively. The plan calls for rolling out about 25 percent of the new system by June 2016 and to complete the expansion by Nov. 1, 2017.

In Palo Alto, the Bike Share program currently employs 37 bikes at five stations: three in downtown, one near the California Avenue Caltrain station and one on Park Boulevard. The city is now eagerly pursuing more than a dozen bike projects, including a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101, and its share of students pedaling to school has been rapidly increasing in recent years. Yet for all the excitement, the Bike Share program has been a flop and, as a result, Palo Alto is not included in the list of cities that would get bikes under the expanded program.

In addition to adding the East Bay cities, the new expansion plan calls for having 150 bikes with locations to be determined after the final planning. Of these, 50 would be in the East Bay, according to Heminger's report.

Robert Neff, who chairs the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee, a group that advises policy makers on bike issues, told the Weekly that the Bike Share bikes currently comprise just a tiny fraction of the bikes seen around Palo Alto.

Neff said he has only seen about five Bike Share bikes being used since the program rolled out. He speculated that this is because Palo Alto just doesn't have the type of size and density that makes bike share such a viable option in cities like San Francisco, New York City and Washington, D.C. In those cities, people can use the bike-share programs in conjunction with transit to plot out elaborate systems for getting around town. Neff, whose committee helped determine the stations where the bikes would be placed, said he's not too disappointed about Bike Share possibly leaving Palo Alto.

"I think it makes more sense to really get it going in places like San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, where there is more density and where it would be more widely used," Neff said. "In Palo Alto, a lot of people are riding from home and have their own bikes."

The low Bike Share ridership numbers in many ways validate the concerns of the city's Architecture Review Board, which expressed significant reservations about the program in August 2012, a year before it rolled out. At that time, several board members raised concerns about having so many stations downtown, within blocks of each other.

Judith Wasserman and Clare Malone Prichard, the board's former chair and vice chair, both suggested that people won't use the new service.

"Why would someone pick up a bike (at the train station) to go to Lytton Plaza when they can walk one mile? If it's only a mile, I'll walk. I'm not going to pick up a bike and pay for it," Malone Prichard said at the time.

Wasserman agreed.

"If I look at this map, and I get off the train, there's absolutely no reason for me to take a bike. If nobody uses them because there is nowhere to go, your project is going to tank," she said.

The determination of where to place the bikes in the expanded network was made by Motivate, the private company that would run the expanded bike fleet. Among the proposals that the MTC will consider at its May meeting is a shift from having the program be paid for with public funds to having it be completely privatized and overseen by Motivate, which currently runs New York City's bike-share program.

While the proposal has yet to be discussed by the MTC board, it is already stirring excitement among city leaders in the expanded areas.

Last week, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Emeryville Mayor Ruth Atkin released a joint statement touting the program's potential for making it easier for people to get around the Bay Area.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who chairs the MTC board, said he was "encouraged by the efforts of Motivate and the cities to put equity concerns front and center.

"I think my colleagues will give the proposal very serious consideration, and I look forward to it coming before the Administration Committee and later to the full Commission," he said.

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22 people like this
Posted by doomed from the start
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2015 at 10:43 am

Palo Alto's bike share system was doomed from the start. Residents were not going to pay $100/year to use only 5 stations located in just 2 parts of town.

This was supposed to be a "pilot" program, but pilot for what? They should have at least put some stations along the Bryant bicycle boulevard and various shopping centers to see if bike share would be more popular in those areas.

Whoever created the Palo Alto pilot program should have known better. I congratulate the designer of the San Francisco pilot program for deploying many more stations from the beginning. That was the right approach.

19 people like this
Posted by interested
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 6, 2015 at 11:18 am

Does this program have spots at Stanford University, Stanford Shopping Center, T& C Village or San Antonio Shopping Center? I'd be willing to pick up a bike and ride there from the train station - especially campus.

18 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2015 at 11:28 am

When will the city of Palo Alto get that we live in a car culture? You can't force people to use bikes when they have no desire to. The new bike bridge and other proposed bike projects will get little use. The public transportation advocates will be crying about this because we aren't the progressive eco-friendly city that they think we are, while trying to figure out other ways to get government money to foist these programs on us and trying to save face with the in crowd.

22 people like this
Posted by Stu Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2015 at 11:32 am

This could be a great system for train riders to Palo Alto. I say could. The problem with the system as it is currently implemented is that the 30 minute time limit requires the rider to get to a destination bike station within the time limit. But, with only five stations in the city there is nowhere to go. Expand the number of stations to 25 or so, with stations in places where people want to ride the to (as the other commenters have suggested) and I believe that the system would see a big uptick in ridership.

And why not have some promotional plans behind the system as well so that people could try it and see if they like it before committing to an annual membership?

I'll bet that the system would see a big increase in ridership if these two steps were implemented.

14 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2015 at 11:48 am

@38 year resident

Or perhaps most of the destinations people are getting off the train for (you know, the 2nd most used station behind downtown San Francisco) are within walking distance?

25 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2015 at 11:59 am

@car culture - no one is forcing you to ride a bicycle. The city is just giving residents more options. Bicycles require far less road space than cars, so the city can accommodate this mode of transportation far more cheaply than building more streets and parking garages. I do see a lot of people bicycling down the city's major bicycle routes during commute hours.

9 people like this
Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Every friend I know in Palo Alto owns 2 or more bicycles! I would never need to rent one of these bikes.

19 people like this
Posted by Bad Boy
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2015 at 12:08 pm

No one has mentioned Stanford's free shuttle service that takes people around campus, the hospital and the shopping center. I'd rather pay nothing for an air-conditioned ride than rent a bike which has been ridden by god-knows how many strangers!

BTW: people who work in PA and want to bike will find it is much cheaper to buy a bike than rent one every day.

15 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 6, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Environmentalists insist upon silly things, like these bikes that too few people find beneficial, and also closing a lane of El Camino Real for buses, thinking it will get us out of our cars.

It will not work. Give the public what we say we need, not what you think we should want.

Resolve ways to cap how many residents/office workers/cars are here during the daytime, easing traffic flow for us before adding more and more of all, mostly to appease the likes of ABAG, the entity where more than $1 million was stolen (and returned by the organization) by an employee.

We need to solve our Transportation issues for everyone, not just for those in their twenties that can take a bike all day, and look for corruption in local/county/regional Transportation, calling them accountable, before we bow to their wishes and to those of ABAG. No one I know will miss the bikes.

18 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Our family has several bikes and I expected that this would be of no use to us. However, the amount of money spent on bike repairs, stolen bikes, and on one occasion not being able to get on Caltrain with a bike due to the delays after an incident, has seriously made us rethink the idea of short term bike rentals.

Unfortunately, the bike rental stations are nowhere near us. If we had them in Midtown, Charleston, Mitchell Park, near the middle and high schools, it may have been a viable option for us.

Also like Google bikes, if they were near some of the business areas on Bayshore and Fabian, they might be used by lunch time workers.

This was never meant to be a viable option for residents as the bikes were not in residential areas. Bad planning will be the demise of the system in Palo Alto.

3 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2015 at 12:25 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

People who want to bike around Palo Alto generally have their own bikes. Those arriving by train can take the Stanford Shuttle.

7 people like this
Posted by for peet's sake...
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 6, 2015 at 12:59 pm

These bike racks are in the middle of nowhere by the CA train station. all on Park Blvd. Who would even know they are there? Anywhere near the University Ave CalTRain Stn? Nope.
1) you need to advertise it's very existence. Work with Caltrain to highlight this service. Work with Stanford are well
2) Put those bikes in a place where is is OBVIOUS! Passengers get off the train and can SEE them.
This was poorly executed.

5 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Apr 6, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Annual membership is a dumb idea and is being abandoned by other systems. People pay for transit by the month or by a Clipper Card.

Why not have it use Clipper Card?

3 people like this
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

why would you pay to use a bike near the train station when you could just bring your own bike on the train?

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 6, 2015 at 2:17 pm

@Sparty, that was answered by @Midtown. Caltrain bike capacity is often maxed out.

@Chris, you need $1200 line of credit in case of bike loss. Clipper won't cut it.

6 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2015 at 2:30 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

I looked at these while waiting for a train thinking that it might be more convenient than using the Bike car.

The hourly use Pricing is outrageous for a 'transportation' bike.

I take (VTA/Caltrain) and ride a $89 Kmart special that gets the job done.

If/when I want a bike to get somewhere, it is usually because it is more than a few minutes walk from transit.

Having to drop off the bike to stop the +meter+ is not always a viable option when you are not near a Bike Station.

Cheap daily (no more than 12 hours) rentals might take some of the Bike car need OFF of the train for casual (1 or 2 days a month) users.

11 people like this
Posted by Carla
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2015 at 3:08 pm

Carla is a registered user.

I thought it was rather stupid NOT to have these bikes at the Train Station in Downtown Palo Alto on University Ave. That is the biggest hub of commuters outside of SF. Instead, the bikes were placed in front the the bike shop 1/4 of a mile way. Why?? Who the heck paid off the biking people to place the bikes so far away from where the people get off/on the train?

5 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Apr 6, 2015 at 3:17 pm

I don't recall seeing any "promotional" literature in the Weekly or in my PA Utility bills about these bikes. The bikes just showed up and I never heard the background, how to pay, how to use, where other racks were located -- nothing. I'm a biker and I have a major interest in this topic, yet I knew nothing about it. That's very disappointing.

7 people like this
Posted by StanP
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2015 at 3:37 pm

No matter what way you look at it Palo Alto is a small town and will always be a small town. We are not a big city and this type of program is best suited for large cities where you can actually get on a bike and ride for miles to different destinations. This proves again that trying to make this town into something that it is not, is futile.

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 6, 2015 at 4:07 pm

@Carla and @peet's sake -- last I looked the downtown Caltrain Station had a Bike Share with a couple dozen docks located exactly at its exit to Alma Street, immediately north of University Avenue.

@Rose -- don't know how you missed all the derision ("Bike Share to Nowhere") that accompanied the initial stories in mid-2013, e.g. Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 6, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

It would make way more sense to treat Palo Alto for what it is - a suburb. Get rid of the bike share which is great for Manhattan. Take the space and make it bike racks so residents can ride their bikes from their homes to downtown. There is a sane way to be pro-bicycle in Palo Alto, but it starts with recognizing what the city is and isn't.

In the year (or has it been two?) since the bike share stuff showed up, I've never once seen anyone ride one of the bikes. But I see bikes locked to trees, to signs, and to parking meters all the time.

16 people like this
Posted by Convenience is key
a resident of Mayfield
on Apr 6, 2015 at 4:25 pm

This is a case of too few bike rental stations. Either you do things well, or they will not work. It cannot be a half baked project.

Same with shuttles and buses. Either they run often enough to be convenient (this is generally put at every 10-15 minutes at most), or they will fail to attract enough ridership.

We need to decide what we want and then do it well. Or else not bother at all.

Like this comment
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2015 at 5:00 pm

@Slow Down...well stated. Thank You.

11 people like this
Posted by Erin Craig
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 6, 2015 at 7:32 pm

I live near The PA -MP border and commute to SF, and am proud to be an annual bikeshare member. I use the bikes regularly in SF and did, once, in Palo Alto. So here are my observations -

- the bikes are great for the work end of a commute. I was / am baffled as to why no PA bike stations were located at worksites not proximate to train stations, such as Town and Country / Paly or near the Charleston Shopping Center.

- with a bit of signage / marketing, the bikes would be great for tourists to the Stanford Campus. That's why I used it once - we had guests and not enough bikes, so we checked out a couple and used them to ride around campus. (Aside - it is ridiculously awkward to get to the Stanford campus from Palo Alto on a bike. No matter how you go. )

- I often take my own bike on CalTrain. I often don't. I only have one bike and its a nice one. I don't take it out in the wet for example. So the two iare not mutually exclusive.

As currently implemented, the PA bikes are puzzling and it does not surprise me to see their demise. I look forward to having more bikes in SF as sometimes my stations are empty.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 6, 2015 at 10:52 pm

It's less than a 10 minute walk from Caltrain to Town & Country.
0.4 miles according to Google Maps.
How much time would a bike save, counting check-out/check-in overhead?
Paly is about 2 minutes further walk.

1 person likes this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:14 am

We are back to root problems that City Staff and Council systematically avoid.
#1 Palo Alto is sub-urban environment struggling to implement urban solutions.
#2 "Blue bikes" was dead-man walking from Day One. Fatal design and nobody responsible for marketing and day-to-day management. Pure Hail Mary. Malpractice, IMO, by over zealous city staff and naive Council. Logic of magical blue bikes should have been challenged by at least one of nine Council stewards.
#3 Failure is not the issue. Council and staff need to embrace... not avoid failure. What to do next is the challenge. Council needs direct contact with expert, independent TMA advisors.

3 people like this
Posted by Oranges
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:34 am

The BABS is missing a huge market on Stanford's campus. Or rather, Stanford's reluctance to support BABS may have doomed the program from the start. Stanford's campus is ideal for cycling, and the trip to/from Caltrain is more than cut in half when done on a bike vs. shuttle. This would be a great way to connect the university to the surrounding communities - which is probably exactly what Stanford doesn't want.

4 people like this
Posted by Irvin Dawid
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2015 at 11:27 am

Perhaps if Palo Alto didn't focus on building new parking facilities, requiring developers to provide more parking, and the city began charging for parking on an hourly basis as most "mature" cities do, we'd see higher usage!

6 people like this
Posted by Omar
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2015 at 11:33 am

The problem with Palo Alto's bikeshare is not that people don't want to bike from place to place: the problem is that the system was way too small. The main place I go to Palo Alto when I visit is Town and Country shopping center, but there is no bike station there. It's a very bikeable distance from Caltrain but a pain to walk. So these days I am driving instead, and that doesn't help the environment or anyone stuck in traffic.

5 people like this
Posted by Omar
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2015 at 11:38 am

@musical: You can bike about three times as fast as you can walk, sometimes faster. So asking how much time a bike can save is a pretty silly question, in my view. Any time you can save that lets people avoid using a car is a win for everyone — time is money, as they say.

4 people like this
Posted by Omar
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2015 at 11:43 am

Adding bikeshare at Stanford would be huge too – help people get to and from games without a car. Traffic is terrible around those times.

The key to a bikeshare's success is system density, so placing stations too close together isn't a problem; it's a benefit: it gives people more choices. The problem in Palo Alto's case is that there weren't enough stations in places people actually wanted to go.

More reading here:
Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Rolling Eyes
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 7, 2015 at 2:47 pm

"Unfortunately, the bike rental stations are nowhere near us."

That's the problem. The bike stations were sited at destinations instead of origins. You had to drive downtown and park your car to borrow a bike to ride it to ... where?

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 7, 2015 at 5:15 pm

@Omar -- I agree with most of your points, but my question regarding short hops was serious. From stepping off a Caltrain at University, to the door of Peet's in Town & Country, 10 to 12 minutes unhurried walking? For the bikeshare I'd guess 2 minutes before you're actually on the bike, 4 to 5 minutes of pedaling, and another 2 minutes to park the bike and walk into Peet's (unless the bikeshare station was at Peet's door).

So yes, if you were a Peet's employee commuting 250 round-trips a year, you might save 40 hours against the $88/year membership, a pretty good deal. For distances shorter than a half-mile, especially if not a daily activity, I'd say bikeshare loses it's advantage over walking.

I also agree with @Erin that "bikes are great for the work end of a commute", but for Bike-Share there's a logistical question since commuters tend to be one-way in the morning, and the other way in the evening. It will either need a whole bunch of bikes with one mile of usage per day, or a truck to return the bikes promptly after each wave comes off a Caltrain arrival. Of course we could then let everyone ride the truck out to Town & Country, but then there wouldn't be any bikes needing return. (Same one-way problem applies to example of getting to games at Stanford.)

Like this comment
Posted by
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2015 at 6:38 pm

Has PA studied places where a bike share program is successful?

It cost 16 cents for the first 30 minutes for bike rental in Taipei (youbikes). The bikes and stands are EVERYWHERE even when public transportation is already far better than anything in the states. You register a card tied to your phone number.

No one is going to pay for a membership. It's a big up front commitment.

Like this comment
Posted by Erin Craig
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:15 pm

To @musical"s point, BABS has specialized vans that they use to redistribute the bikes every evening in SF.

And if you are an annual member, checkout takes about 15 seconds.

Actually no one has mentioned the issue that bugs me most about using the bikes - helmets. You either have to carry one around with you everywhere on your commute, which is awkward, or you go without.

Generally I agree that there are few places in PA where the bikes would be a great choice. Either the distances are walkable, or there is already a free shuttle, Might be an interesting idea for downtown workers though - find space for a new kind of Park n Ride near 101 or otherwise outside of downtown and provide a huge number of free bikes there.

2 people like this
Posted by bikegirl
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2015 at 8:49 am

the bike share stations are located wrong, perhaps the plan should use beta test sites

none in midtown

2 people like this
Posted by Duh
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 8, 2015 at 4:43 pm

A few obvious flaws in the 'pilot'. In no particular order:

* Stations not near enough to transit. The University Caltrain bikes are two+ blocks away. California 1.5 blocks around the corner. Really, no real estate AT a train station?

* Insufficient density. So I pick up a bike at University Caltrain. Now what. Reasonable bike range is EASILY all of downtown PA plus the offices over the creek in MP and down to Embarcadero. But there aren't matching stations for drop off (or pickup in the other direction)

* Lack of a good trial program. A day, a week. BTW, this applies to the whole system. I'd love to grab one when I'm in SF but way too much hassle.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 8, 2015 at 6:12 pm

@Duh, as I clarified to @Carla and @peet's sake above, the University Caltrain Station has a Bike Share directly at its exit to Alma Street, immediately north of University Avenue. Yes there is another bikestation on University near Emerson.

As for having to walk 250 feet to get to the bikes at California Avenue, I'll just note that the Caltrain platform is 700 feet long.

3 people like this
Posted by Nana
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 5, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Why is there no bike station in the Midtown area? Some of us who live there and within walking distance of Midtown but have to come back and forth downtown could use a bike between these two points and that would work within the 30 minute limit.

The points are not always in sensible locations. For example, I don't know who would use the location that is near AOL so why not move that to Middlefield somewhere in the midtown area. That would be a better location.

4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2015 at 6:00 pm

We would have signed up for bike share if there were stations in midtown and at our local libraries and some of the local shopping plazas. Kind of scared to use our own bikes for errands because of rampant bicycle theft around town.

As it is, bike share seems to be designed for out-of-towners who come in to Palo Alto via Caltrain, but even at that it fails because all the stations are so close to the Caltrain stations. Bike share seems to have no interest in Palo Alto residents.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2015 at 6:16 pm

Bike Share would be a good option for our family too. We have had one bike stolen and many damaged in the bike racks.

These bikes in residential areas would be a good option for many people. We have very poor public transportation and rather than taking a bike on the train or bus, it would be a good option to use one of these on a regular basis. Leaving a bike tied up all day, even with a good lock, is basically asking for it to be stolen. Regular parking at bus stops or Caltrain makes it easy for thieves to get away before the theft is discovered. PAPD are not helping matters by ignoring bike thefts.

This would help many of us out.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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