Bike Share on San Francisco Peninsula in Jeopardy

Palo Alto may be one of America's most bike-friendly small cities, but when it comes to bikeshare, it's been a flop. It's not alone—ridership has been low in Mountain View and Redwood City as well.
April 10, 2015, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"[Palo Alto] is now eagerly pursuing more than a dozen bike projects, including a new bike bridge [with an estimated price tag of $10 million] over U.S. Highway 101, and its share of students pedaling to school has been rapidly increasing in recent years," writes Gennady Sheyner of Palo Alto Weekly. "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."

According to the 17-page Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) memo [PDF] for the April 8 Administration Committee meeting agenda, the bike share utilization was too low in the three Peninsula cities to warrant being included in the expansion proposal.

City Trips per bike per day # of bikes
Mountain View 0.48 54
Palo Alto 0.21 37
Redwood City 0.07 52
San Francisco 2.6 328
San Jose 0.39 129

As noted here on April 4, Bay Area Bike Share is poised to expand ten-fold, entering three new cities in the East Bay (Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland), and increasing bikes in the Bay Area's two largest cities, San Francisco and San Jose.

Left out are Redwood City, Palo Alto, and Mountain View. And here's the controversial part in the MTC proposal: If those cities want to remain in the program, they will have to fund it, as Andrew Boone of Streetsblog SF explained prior to the MTC meeting.

Reporting on the MTC meeting, KCBS's Margie Shafer note's MTC Commissioner and San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier's objection to the "pay to play" offer extended to the three cities. Redwood City is in San Mateo County while Palo Alto and Mountain View are just south in Santa Clara County. [Listen here.]

“I guess the part I don’t appreciate is all those that were in the pilot program are now going to be asked to pay to get back in,” she said.

Yhy the low usage in Palo Alto?

Robert Neff, who chairs the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee, "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.," writes Sheyner. "In those cities, people can use the bike-share programs in conjunction with transit to plot out elaborate systems for getting around town." 

Neff misses a key point though. Palo Alto's downtown (University Ave.) train station has the highest Caltrain ridership outside of the San Francisco depot. 

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.

When the full Commission meets on May 27, they will make the final determination as to how to deal with the three cities. According to a phone call with MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler, the bike share "pilot program" is expected to transition into a ten-year, public-private partnership with Motivate.

When asked about the low ridership in San Jose, Rentschler explained that there are other factors to consider, such as advertising on the bikes and at the docking stations. Currently neither haves ads.

Bay Area Bike Share is one of the few regional bike share programs. Looking at the ridership numbers listed above, one might ask if it makes more sense to restrict it to San Francisco. It will be interesting to see if the East Bay cities fare better than their Peninsula counterparts.

Hat Tip: MTC Headlines

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Published on Monday, April 6, 2015 in Palo Alto Online
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