Tuesday, November 17, 2009

VTA plans for the first bike sharing program in the Bay Area

Recently, VTA has earned a lot of attention not because of its transit program, but its planning effort to implement the first bicycle sharing program in the Bay Area.

The concept of bike sharing is a result of Caltrain's bicycle planning process. When Caltrain released its bicycle plan last year, which outlined various options to provide bicycle parking to provide alternatives to bring bicycles onboard, the bicycle community got outraged that Caltrain didn't plan to increase onboard capacity. After months of pressure, Caltrain relented by increasing capacity from 32 to 40 per bike car. While an increase of capacity help cut the number of "bumps" (denied boarding) faced by bicyclists, there's not that much space that Caltrain could dedicate to store bicycles without taking seats from paying passengers, and the fact that more passengers taking their bikes slow trains down for everyone by having longer dwell times.

VTA's proposed bike sharing program is being planned for Palo Alto, Mountain View, and San Jose Diridon stations. These stations are well used and have a large number of employers located within bicycle distance. Bike sharing has an advantage of allowing train commuters to bike from the train station to their workplace without having to bring their bikes onboard, to leave their bikes at the station overnight, or owning two bicycles if they also bike from their home to the train station.

VTA is currently reviewing different bicycle sharing programs already implemented in other cities. Paris currently operates the most extensive bicycle sharing network. In North America, Montreal developed its own version of bicycle sharing system. In those systems, anyone can sign up for membership and pay a fixed monthly membership fee. After that, the user would have a electronic key and could pick up a bike at a bike sharing station, which would be located at various locations throughout the city. For free or a small fee, the user could ride the bike from one station to another station, or for a larger fee, the user could keep the bike longer and make errands.

Bicycle sharing program is not without risks. Would there be enough bike sharing stations to allow bikes to be shared conveniently? Would users feel safe to ride their bikes given the current bike paths and lanes as well as street traffic? What about theft and vandalism? Who will pay for the ongoing operating and maintenance cost?

VTA is currently trying to secure a $500,000 MTC grant to start a pilot program. If it goes well, it would improve access between transit and nearby employers. It could encourage further transit use by cutting the access time to and from transit and without placing more burden on the limited bike capacity on trains and buses. It could also make the transit trip easier by not having to transfer to a bus or shuttle (which they often don't sync, and worse if one of the modes gets delayed). It could also be more cost effective than providing feeder shuttle service.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Completely unrelatedly, Express and Limited Stop VTA bus passengers should complete a survey to
1) improve service and
2) enter to win gift cards up to $100

http://www.vta.org/bus_survey.

The survey closes Monday AM 11/23/09.

arcady said...

That bus survey doesn't ask the most important question: would you like the bus to run later? It's a pretty big problem when the limited/express bus schedules completely fail to line up with the typical tech workday of 10 am to 7 pm. I think later buses, both AM and PM, would be fairly popular.

As for bike sharing: it's an interesting idea, and it's not really something that's been tried before in this particular way. Existing bike share systems try to homogeneously cover an area, generally urban, whereas here, it's primarily for getting from station to workplace. I think San Jose, Mountain View, and Palo Alto are a good place to start, and for it to really be useful, you'd need rental stations both at Caltrain at employer sites, so that you can go one way by bike and the other way in, say, a friend's car. I'd consider the bike share for that even though I have my own bike. It also means that the bikes might get some use for lunch trips as well. If Translink were not such a disaster, I'd suggest tying into that as well, which would make for a good promotional opportunity by including a couple free bike rentals with a Caltrain or VTA monthly pass.