With Ford's help, city looks to accelerate bike sharing | News | Palo Alto Online |


With Ford's help, city looks to accelerate bike sharing

Palo Alto looks to partner with car giant and Motivate to launch a 350-bike system

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Palo Alto's small and underused bike-share system would undergo a ten-fold expansion and a technological makeover under a partnership that the city is negotiating with Motivate, which operates the existing network and which is working with Ford Motor Company on a new Bay Area-wide program.

The deal, which the City Council is scheduled to discuss on Oct. 4, would increase the number of bikes in the city's network from the current level of 37 to about 350, with Motivate covering the annual operating costs. The city would be responsible for buying the bikes, which would be equipped with GPS systems that allow riders greater flexibility in where they pick up and drop off the bicycles.

In both scope and technology, the revamp would radically change the existing system, which features five stations (three downtown and two on Park Boulevard) and dozens of mostly unused bikes. According to statistics from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and city planning staff, a bike in Palo Alto's system was taken for a ride 0.17 times per day between September 2014 and August 2015, far below the industry standard of one ride per day. (In San Francisco, the rate was a comparatively robust 2.51 trips.)

Given that underwhelming performance, Palo Alto's transportation planners have been looking for new options. In July, the council favored a switch to "smart bikes," in which tracking technology is embedded on a bike rather than at a docking station. This allows bikes to be dropped off at standard racks in designated "hubs."

At the time, the city considered switching from the existing Motivate system, which also serves San Francisco, Redwood City, Mountain View and other Bay Area cities, to one operated by Social Bicycles, which uses smart bikes and operates in San Mateo, Phoenix, Santa Monica and Portland, Oregon.

The city's effort to revamp its bike-share program has coincided with another transformation: Ford Motor Company's recent shift into the bike-share game. As part of its new focus on what it calls "smart mobility," the car giant announced last week its plan to underwrite a colossal expansion of Motivate's Bay Area-wide bike-share program, raising the number of bikes from 700 to 7,000. The seven-year partnership between Motivate and Ford would bring 4,500 bikes to San Francisco (up from 328) and 1,000 to San Jose (up from 129). It would also bring 850 bikes to Oakland, 400 to Berkeley and 100 to Emeryville, according to a news release from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which has a contract with Motivate for the bike-share program.

Since the July council meeting, the city's Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello and transportation planner Chris Corrao have been discussing with Motivate the possibility of joining the pack. Mello told the Weekly that Motivate has committed to covering the operations and providing a membership plan that allows access to both systems. If the local program follows the model of the regional one, Ford would underwrite these costs. Ford, which in 2015 opened its Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, has not yet committed to paying for the Palo Alto program.

Palo Alto's entry into the expanded bike-share partnership could have ramifications for neighboring communities -- and symbolize a major step forward in a new effort to collaborate regionally.

In May, Palo Alto City Manager James Keene signed an agreement with the city managers of Menlo Park, Mountain View and Redwood City and with Stanford University's Senior Associate Vice President William Phillips to "jointly address the transportation and mobility challenges facing the region in the wake of population growth and economic expansion."

The group, known as Managers' Mobility Partnership, acknowledged that many challenges the cities and Stanford are working on are "regional in nature and cannot be addressed if each jurisdiction works in isolation."

One area in which they pledged to work together is on enhancing bicycle lanes and associated infrastructure, "with a goal of creating an interconnected regional network." They also agreed to direct their staffs to cooperate and collaborate and to seek partnerships with the private sector.

Keene said Monday that, from staff's perspective, moving ahead using a regional approach is one of the main benefits of the potential partnership with Ford and Motivate. When the City Council signaled its intent in July to drift away from Motivate and to create a new smart-bike system with Social Bicycles technology, it risked going it alone.

Now, with Motivate and Ford preparing to take charge of Palo Alto's revamped system, the city can link to others' throughout the Bay Area. Over the last few months, Keene said Monday, "all the pieces have fallen into place" and the other parties are preparing to make their own announcements about participating in the Ford/Motivate system.

Keene said he has also asked major companies and employment centers, most notably in Stanford Research Park, to get involved, and they have expressed interest.

"I think it's going to have a dramatic change in bike-sharing programs," Keene said of the Ford-sponsored system.

According to Mello, Motivate has agreed to use smart-bike technology on the Peninsula even as it continues to use its current stations and bikes in the larger cities.

The negotiated terms, he said, would offer Palo Alto two options. Under one scenario, Motivate would pay for operations, while the city would cover the capital costs, which are estimated at about $1 million. Mello said some of these costs could be offset by grants, including a $171,000 grant that the city has already received for the program.

Another option would require the city to pay for operations (the costs are about $100 per bike per month) but would allow the city to make money from advertising on the bikes. The council is expected to consider both alternatives when it discusses the proposed terms on Oct. 4.

Mello said the "big takeaway" in the new deal is the fact that the city will be able to pursue the technology it wants while remaining within the regional network.

"We're not breaking out and creating a breakaway parallel system that's not coordinated with the other systems," Mello said. "We're able to stay part of the Bay Area bike-share system so that someone from Oakland, San Francisco or San Jose can come to Palo Alto and use the bike-share system with the same account."


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4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2016 at 9:09 am

From my perspective, if the bikes were in neighborhoods and places where people wanted to go it would be a big boost to those of us who have had bikes stolen at schools and stations.

Being able to pick up a bike at a neighborhood park, Midtown and other shopping centers, the YMCA, schools, etc. would make them a great alternative for those who are concerned about bike theft and maintenance issues with their own personal bikes. They would also help those of us with out of town guests get to public transportation if they were in neighborhood parks.

The siting of the stations at present make no sense to local residents.

3 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2016 at 11:34 am

I agree.
They should keep stations at the Caltrain stations and the various shopping area's, ie downtown, midtown, Charleston by Costco shopping area, Stanford, El Camino at various places and even some of the bigger parks, like Mitchell and the Main library. I feel these are places in PA that people might be more inclined to ride a bike if they had access.

4 people like this
Posted by A Group of Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 16, 2016 at 12:37 pm

It would be great that they will make some smaller bikes available for people sized petite, too. It surely will attract more people and enlarge their market share.

6 people like this
Posted by Costly
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2016 at 1:03 pm

Costly is a registered user.

I would like to see the bikes in the residential neighborhoods-- where people START from, not just the destination points.

Also, Many, many younger people have told me that they feel the price is unfairly and inappropriately high, especially for such no-frills bicycles.

Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of another community
on Sep 16, 2016 at 2:24 pm

The Managers' Mobility Partnership is the way to go. No way a bike program can be successful if each city does its own thing. A transportation network has to be designed with the users in mind and where they want to go, not by the artificial boundaries of city limits. For example, what if I wanted to bike from Palo Alto to Menlo Park or to Stanford? I can't return the bike in any of those other cities.

6 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Operational costs of $100 per bike per day? And "good" utilization is 2.5 times a day (Palo Alto is at .17)? Am I missing something? Providing free rides on Lyft/uber would be a lot cheaper, and would be utilized in the rain as well.

Explain the economics of this to me please!!! I know we want fewer cars but just how many very short cab rides would it take to replace "good" utilization (i.e. no parking required).

4 people like this
Posted by Srsly?
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Srsly? is a registered user.

$100/day is way, way too much money for a bike that is bare bones and hard on the knees!

That's no incentive at all! WTF are they thinking?

How about a rate of $10 per 4-hr time period, $18 for 8 hrs, $25 for 12 hrs, $50 for overnight.

The current rate is unreasonable!

3 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2016 at 6:24 pm

$1200 per bike per year to keep the bike in the rental fleet after it has been purchased? That's perhaps about 4 times the cost of buying a bike. That sounds like a really great idea (for the person maintaining the bikes) and a wise use of unlimited tax revenues.

Like this comment
Posted by VA employee
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 16, 2016 at 7:14 pm

How about at Cal Ave Caltrain and near VA, Tibco, VMware?

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2016 at 10:48 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Sorry - misread the cost of maintenance - $100 per bike per month - at 350 bikes that is $35,000 per month and $420,000 per year. No matter who pays it, it seems way out of line. And they think advertising will cover this cost? Something doesn't make sense.

1 person likes this
Posted by the bike princess
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2016 at 11:29 pm

I believe the city isn't quite "on board" about the bikes purpose. Is it to make money or reduce the amount of cars? There's real value in first figuring out the objective.
If the objective is to reduce the amount of cars, especially in the business zones, bikes and buses should be working in tandem, along with parking lots on the fringes. Another factor is the time limit. On these bikes (clunkers, I'd call them) 30 min won't work for across town, how about a generous hour? And of course, stations at schools, business hubs and lots in downtown areas.
The current system, "To make Money" surely isn't working either, it's simply not a win with cyclists.
For myself, If I had easy access to a bike to ride downtown to work or go to Caltrain (and whatever reason didn't want to take my own), I might use these, but not when I only had half an hour, and what if a docking station at the train station was full? I'd be ...
In Stockholm, the cost of a 3 day pass was half the cost of transit, plus there are a multitude of docking stations to choose from, (every other block at least) making it a real incentive to ride them. In Chicago, you can tell from an app what stations have room and what don't, plus there's a back up plan.

1 person likes this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2016 at 11:58 am

Sounds like the program administrators are getting rich. How much of the money is going to "Management".

2 people like this
Posted by Scott McMahon
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 17, 2016 at 9:49 pm


Membership cost is $88/yr or $9/day, or $22 for 3 days.

For kids and commuters using the system regularly, yearly membership would be relatively cheap.

Membership gives you unlimited 30 minute trips. You may have a bike for 30 min, park it, and immediately check it out again for another 30 min, if no one else is waiting for it. Keeping the bike for a total of 60 minutes without checking it back in costs $4. Keeping the bike without checking it in for any longer costs $9/hr. This system is not really bike rental. It is more like a bus or train that gets you from one fixed destination to another. It would be expensive to take the bike for a shopping trip, unless there is a drop off location near where you are going to shop.

I've used the system in Washington DC for sightseeing and it worked very well. They have lots of neighborhood bike stations. They also have a lot of them near transit and popular destinations, like the national mall and museums.

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