Metropolitan Transportation Commission approves expansion of bike share program

Bike sharing has not proven to be particularly popular in Palo Alto

A tenfold expansion of the Bay Area Bike Share program was unanimously approved Wednesday morning by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The expansion to more than 7,000 bicycles, set to be completed by 2017, would introduce the popular program in the East Bay for the first time and come at no cost to taxpayers, MTC officials said.

Bike sharing, a subscription service where bikes are available at docking stations for short rides, was first introduced in the Bay Area in 2013 with 700 bikes at 70 docking stations in Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Francisco, Redwood City and San Jose.

The program has proven successful, particularly in San Francisco, and an expansion of the system has been planned since shortly after its inception. However, planned expansions were stalled when bicycle manufacturer Bixi went bankrupt last year.

But the company that operates the system has since reorganized its supply chain and is ready to expand significantly over the next two years.

Now called Motivate International Inc., the company operates similar systems in Chicago, New York, Washington, Seattle and other cities in the U.S. and Canada. The company says it can expand the program at no cost to taxpayers by funding it through corporate sponsorship, a model that has already proven successful in other urban areas.

Motivate CEO Jay Walder said at Wednesday's MTC meeting that bike share bicycles are used in numerous different ways, including connecting to BART, San Francisco Municipal Railway or Caltrain, taking rides between neighborhoods not well connected by public transit, running quick errands or just to get some exercise.

"That's the beauty of bike share: Each person can make it what they want it to be," Walder said. "In the blink of an eye it will become part of the urban fabric of the cities."

The planned expansion would make the Bay Area's bike share system the second-largest in the country, Walder said.

Most of the new bikes would go to San Francisco, where the total number of bikes would jump to 4,500. After the expansion, there would be 1,000 bikes in San Jose, 850 in Oakland, 400 in Berkeley and 100 in Emeryville.

Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City could get up to 155 bikes between the three cities, though bike sharing has not proven to be particularly popular there and the cities may decide to abandon bike sharing altogether, according to MTC officials.

As of March 1, the system yielded a total of 485,000 trips in 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). 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.

Related content:

Bike Share's expansion plan leaves Palo Alto behind

Bike Share system planning expansion by 2017

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6 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 27, 2015 at 2:30 pm

I visit Palo Alto often and I have a bikeshare membership. To be honest, it's pretty useless in Palo Alto. To succeed, you need density. I need to be able to ride my bike to Town and Country, to different parts of downtown, to my dentist in midtown, to Greer Park. Today, I think there's stations downtown and at Cal Ave. That's it. That's a pretty limited set of trips. Hopefully they'll ramp up on the # of stations, and things will change.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 27, 2015 at 2:51 pm

I would love this from Midtown or local park to Paly.

No more worries about bikes getting stolen, or damaged.

Cheaper than having to keep getting bikes repaired or replaced and no more worries about pumping tires either.

2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 27, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

"According to MTC data, a Palo Alto bike has a usage rate of 0.21 trips per day"

Uhm, that's horrible? The unused bikes as basically wasting space. At that usage rate, it would be better to return the spaces to parking, or at least bike racks so those that do ride around Palo Alto have better storage options.

8 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2015 at 3:54 pm

I predict that within a year Bike Share operations will be terminated in Palo Alto and Redwood City.

Most of the local residents that want to bike already have one (used bikes can be found relatively cheaply) and the population density is too low for commuters for sufficient rides per bike.

4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2015 at 4:47 pm

> Cheaper than having to keep getting bikes repaired or replaced and
> no more worries about pumping tires either.

Why is it the government's obligation to provide alternatives to what clearly seem to be personal responsibilities?

9 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Bike Share has failed in Palo Alto because there are so few stations and the existing stations are in locations that are pretty useless to Palo Alto residents. If the city wants this system to be useful to residents, they have to put some stations in residential neighborhoods. For example, put stations at local shopping centers and libraries, so people can walk to those locations to pick up a bike and ride it to other parts of town.

Right now, the bikes are really only useful to out-of-towners who arrive on Caltrain, but apparently Caltrain riders aren't very interested.

12 people like this
Posted by Bike Rider
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2015 at 5:54 pm

The program cost isn't really geared toward suburban residents. It's $88 a year (unlimited rides under thirty minutes), with surcharges of $4 and $7 for rides that are 30-60 minutes and 60+ minutes respectively.

One can buy a used bike at Campus Bike Shop for about $250-300. Yeah, you have to buy a lock and pay for the maintenance, but what's more convenient: walking to some nearby park/shopping center to grab a bike for <30 minutes, or just walking to your garage and pedaling away?

If you live in the area and you want to ride a bicycle, just buy one and stick it in your garage. Oh, and buy a helmet too and hang it from the handlebars since BikeShare stations don't rent out helmets.

This program is doomed on the Peninsula. Heck, based on current ridership levels I'd rather see the BikeShare stations ripped out of their current locations and replaced with bicycle parking.

7 people like this
Posted by Less than the Sum of its Parts
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2015 at 5:58 pm

The lowdown is that this bike rental and its lack of locations make it completely impractical for residents.

2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 27, 2015 at 6:44 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Bike Rider - I don't recommend it, but you could get a 18 speed Roadmaster at WalMart for $79. They are junky, but should last more than a year, but certainly a better ride, and a better value for suburbanites than the bike rentals.

Web Link

I agree with you - bike racks would be more effective way to promote cycling than unused bike rentals.

1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 27, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Just a comment, but I think this is a private enterprise, not a Government provided facility. In other words, this does not cost the taxpayers anything.

By the Way, if you have had bikes stolen at Paly or had to rescue a bike that has been damaged in the bike racks at Paly, you would not talk about personal responsibility. Bikes on the Paly campus are frequently stolen and damaged.

5 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 27, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Paly Parent - It is run by a private company, but they are being financed by the government. They've received 8.7 million from local agencies so far, and have been allocated another 3 million. They also appear to be getting a lot of public space without having to pay for it. They have also been taking money from the Federal Highway Fund. The current expansion claims to be at no cost to the taxpayer, but there seems to be an array of ongoing operational and upgrade fees that cities and local agencies pay to the private operator.

As far as I can tell, Palo Alto is on the hook for $101,000 a year just to maintain the existing 37 bicycles. That's some classic crony capitalism. For that money, the city could buy 1,000 bikes a year, and just leave them around the city for random use. Even with the rampant theft that would be sure to happen, you'd do more good than .21 rides per day.

3 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2015 at 8:47 pm

@Paly Parent:

Stolen bikes are a problem at all schools, not just Paly.

5 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 27, 2015 at 9:42 pm

The bike sharing program works well in SF because of the high density. Along the Peninsula it was geared towards Caltrain riders, who might not want to take their own bike on the train because of the chance of being bumped (refused boarding because the bike cars are full). It might have worked in Palo Alto if Stanford had joined, as was the original plan. For some reason that had to do with lawyers and liability and insurance, Stanford never joined and the Palo Alto usage was near zero. Palo Alto can pay to stay in the system but that would be a total waste of money to gain nothing but civic bragging rights. We should let go of the program and watch it succeed elsewhere.

3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2015 at 10:01 am

Stanford isn't the only employer in Palo Alto. Bike share can really take off in and around Palo Alto if they build stations at HP, PARC, Google, Page Mill Square, Midtown Shopping Center, etc. If the point of Bike Share is to help people get to work, then why aren't there any stations near where most people work in this city? The existing stations are way too limited to be useful, especially with the one-size-fits-all annual price.

1 person likes this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on May 28, 2015 at 10:36 am

There is another issue for Council and Staff to address. The Blue Bike program may or may not be good fit for PA at this time. But the issue is classic under-management by city staff. And it is not the fault of our over-burdened city staff.

The City Council and City Staff should not undertake programs like this without having 24 months of solid, start-up resources to drive analysis of need, expansion of new stations, marketing, etc. For better or worse, Council should be asking why corporate sponsorship floundered. Why Stanford cannot be persuaded to change its policy? Those two issues are more or less program killers. All of this was pretty obvious when staff recommended the program!!! Give this problem to PTC and TMA to resolve jointly.

Blue bikes have lots of start up problems across the US. PA is not taking advantage of what makes Blue Bikes successful and unsuccessful.

4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on May 28, 2015 at 10:55 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Neilson Buchanan - bike sharing success correlates almost perfectly to the density of the city it is in. Palo Alto will never be a good fit. The one place the Palo Alto has some density, downtown, doesn't need it because it is directly adjacent to the train station.

Remember, the system is designed for mini-commutes from bike rack to bike rack, with financial penalties if you have the bike for more than 30 minutes. So the incredibly weird use case we have created in Palo Alto is: University CalTrain -> Cowper, or California Caltrain -> Olive. Those are such short distances, it isn't worth paying for a bike. And frankly, with all the traffic downtown, and no bike lanes, most people probably feel safer walking.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2015 at 11:25 am

The bike sharing company should remove the bicyles that are located in front of the PA Bicycle Shop on University Avenue. The bikes are taking up 2-3 parking places. Only a handful of bikes are ever rented out. Why did the city allow the bike share company to place the bikes on such a valuable and busy spot on University Ave?

2 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2015 at 1:29 pm

Several posts make the point that this is a program that succeeds in more dense populations. They are correct. This will never work in Palo Alto. Another reason for its failure is that we live in a car culture. You cannot force people to use bicycles if they have no desire to. I go by the Cal. Ave. location a minimum of 8 times per week. It's rare that the racks have bikes out for use. Waste of money. Someone's making money on this at the cost of the taxpayer as SlowDown points out.

2 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2015 at 4:58 pm

@Neilson Buchanan....over burdened city staff? Really ?? Overpaid perhaps, but not overburdened.

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

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