Citywide bike share finally comes to California


This past weekend in Anaheim saw the launch of the first station in California’s first citywide bike share program, with plans for seven more stations scattered around downtown Anaheim. We applaud the coming of citywide bike share in California and want to see such programs benefit the entire state.

Bike share is similar to car-sharing programs like Zipcar and City CarShare. A subscriber takes a bike out of one station and can dock it at any other station in the system. Short trips are free, with longer trips progressively costing more. This ensures that trips stay short and that there will be plentiful bikes for new customers.

Bike share was first piloted in Europe, with the largest system, Paris Velib, boasting more than 20,000 bicycles. Barclays Cycle Hire in London has more than 13 million rides since launching in late 2010. Montreal’s Bixi system was the pioneer on the North American continent. Systems are up and running in 16 U.S. Cities, including Boston, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis and  Washington, D.C.  New York City will launch a 10,000-bike system this summer, with Chicago soon expanding to 3,000 bikes.

ZotWheels bike share at UC Irvine

University-based bike share systems have operated in California for quite a few years, but California has been late to the bike share party when it comes to city-sponsored systems. Los Angeles  recently announced plans for a bike share system that, once built out, will have 4,000 bikes available across the city. San Francisco is teaming up with four cities in Silicon Valley to provide 1,000 bikes along the well-traveled Caltrain commuter rail line. The City of Santa Monica recently decided to speed up its application process for a system, while Marin County recently authorized a study for bike share.

The public discussion about bike share has been overwhelmingly at the city level, only sometimes considering regional concerns. We see three essential points for making bike share succeeds and across the state:

1. Bike share systems must be compatible on a statewide level.

Bike share systems must stress compatibility on all levels, starting with transit passes such as the Clipper Card used by transit agencies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Californians with a bike share account should be able to universally undock a bicycle, no matter the city or the vendor. Similarly, cities considering a bike share system should be free to select the vendor that works best for them – and not feel pressure to select the bike share vendor in an adjacent city because the systems may not match.

There are several major bike share vendors emerging. Alta Bicycle Share, Bike Nation, B-cycle, and DecoBike have all submitted applications for bike share in California. Already, Alta Bicycle Share has secured a toehold in the San Francisco Bay Area and Bike Nation, a beachhead in Southern California. While compatibility may preclude bike share vendors from carving out fiefdoms, it will increase overall ridership and lift all boats.

2. Bike share must be ridership-driven, not advertiser-driven.

Many vendors make bike share pencil out by utilizing the ability of bicycles and docking stations to double as advertising space. While there is nothing wrong with that, bike share vendors in the past have been more interested in maximizing advertising dollars than ridership. Bike share will be sustainable only if ridership takes precedent.

3. Vendors must adopt an open data format.

Bike share bikes are all outfitted with a GPS unit or radio-frequency identification chips called RFIDs, which gather user data. Useful data about bicyclist travel patterns are few and far between; information gathered from bike share systems represent a quantum leap forward for bicycle planners and decision makers. Sharing information about how and where people use a bike share system can help strengthen arguments for more bicycle infrastructure, which will lead to more bicyclists, which will lead to more customers for bike share! While proprietary information should be protected, all else should be shared in an open data format.

~ Christopher Kidd, CBC board of directors

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