Pedaling slowly

Bay Area Bike Share debuts with just 700 bicycles — not enough, say SF officials; too many, say bike rental companies

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Bay Area Bike Share launches with 35 stations in San Francisco.
BAYAREABIKESHARE.COM/stations

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With San Francisco bicycle rental companies such as Blazing Saddles and Bay City Bicycle Rentals and Tours having bike fleets numbering in the thousands, why does the new San Francisco bike share program only have 350 bikes? And can that really be effective?

In August, San Francisco and a handful of other Bay Area cities will join the ranks of the dozens of cities in the country that have bicycle share programs, although most are more robust than ours. For example, New York City's bike share program offer 6,000 bikes.

Sponsored by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and bankrolled by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission with more than $7 million, the program will bring 700 bikes to the region — half of which will make their way to San Francisco.

In the following months, San Francisco could be allotted 500 total bikes. For the initial launch, 35 bike share stations will be spread throughout the city, and when the bicycle count rises, the number of stations will jump to 50.

MTC spokesperson Sean Co told us that most of the money for the program goes to the cost of the bikes themselves. Each bike costs $5,000, is outfitted with tracking technology, and is expected to last 10 years. In addition to being high-tech, all bike share bikes are unique to Alta Bike Share Systems, and require special tools to be taken apart, another factor in the high price tag.

The rest of money goes toward the stations and fees for a consultant that helps run the program. Co believes that the membership fees alone will make up for the over $7 million spent on the program. But that's assuming the program isn't a flop, which some fear it could be given the anemic number of bikes being offered.

 

WHY SO FEW?

New York City's bike share, Citi Bike — financed completely by Citigroup Inc. with no public funds — launched in May with 6,000 bikes and 300 stations. That program is already approaching a million total rides. Chicago's Divvy bike share system started off with 750 bikes at the beginning of July and will increase to 3,000 at the end of August.

Kit Hodge, deputy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, is one of the people who says that 350 bikes just isn't enough for San Francisco. "The city and SFMTA have estimated that it would take 3,000 bikes to have an effective bicycle share," Hodge told us. "We definitely are pushing for more bikes."

But San Francisco's bicycle share may get the thousands of bikes that some believe it needs. The Board of Supervisors recently passed a resolution that calls on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Department of Public Works to have a much larger system by 2014.

"Five hundred bikes isn't enough for a citywide bike share," Sup. Scott Wiener, who sponsored the resolution, told us. "If you look at other cities with a large population and a lot of people biking, bicycle share stations have to be heavily concentrated in many different areas. With the 500 bikes, other areas of the city will be excluded."

But critics like Wiener and Hodge may not have taken into account that this program is only a trial run, with enough funding to last a year, according to BAAQMD representatives.

BAAQMD Director of Strategic Incentives Damian Breen told us the program is just the right size: "We feel the pilot is appropriately sized. I don't think we've limited ourselves at all. This is to test the waters and see what it can grow into."

Breen also thinks that mainly focusing on San Francisco for the Bay Area-wide bicycle sharing program would be unfair to other cities. Unlike other bicycle sharing programs, such as New York City and Chicago, San Francisco's bicycle sharing system is just one part of a regional program that includes Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and San Jose.