Marin bike share attracts sponsors without a station in the ground

Bay Area Bike Share. Image by Andrew Nash, on Flickr

Bay Area Bike Share. Image by Andrew Nash, on Flickr

Over a year ago I reported that Marin was pondering a bike share program of its own, whether as a branch of Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) or as its own independent system. Though the initial study (performed by Alta) had some problems with stop location, overall TAM was optimistic and continued to press forward.

As it turns out, at least when it came to sponsorship, they weren’t optimistic enough.

The 2013 study predicted that the initial system, a pilot area between Larkspur Ferry Terminal and downtown San Rafael, would raise just $10,000 worth of private sponsorships, enough to express support but not enough to add serious funding to the system. As of June, the system – without a station in existence – has $247,000 worth of sponsorship pledges.

The sponsors aren’t just the typical bike shops or downtown businesses either. Bon Air Center, the huge Greenbrae strip mall, pledged $20,000, enough for a station of its own. Marin General Hospital pledged $40,000, enough for two stations. United Markets and Woodlands Markets both pledged another $20,000, and Emeryville’s Clif Bar pledged $40,000. Others pledged, too, but this gives a picture of the kind of support received.

This level of enthusiasm is a great sign for the proposed system. While Marin County Bike Share likely won’t ever get the level of daily trips per bike as Minneapolis or DC, it lends hope that bike-hungry Marin will outperform Alta’s fairly low use estimates. Such a concrete show of local support, too, will likely be helpful now that TAM has grant applications in for regional, state, and federal funding for the system.

Update: If you’re really curious about what’s going on with bike share, you can read from PDF-page 199 of the last TAM Board agenda packet.

Advertisements

A fragmented BABS is bad for the region

UPDATE: Bay Area Bike Share has confirmed that you can, indeed, dock bikes between any participating city. It’s unclear why Peter Colijn was unable to dock his bike.

UPDATED UPDATE: Well, the BABS website has been updated saying that San Francisco and the rest of the system are separate, in that you can’t bike from SF to other parts of the system, nor vice versa. But if you wanted to, say, bike from San Jose to Mountain View, you could dock your bike.

It took less than a week for an intrepid bicyclist to decide it was time to ride a Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) bike from San Francisco to Mountain View. Given our region’s strong corps of Bicyclists, it was only a matter of time, really.

But when the bicyclist, Peter Colijn, got to Mountain View, he couldn’t dock his bike. It seems BABS has set up not just different clusters of stations, but different systems altogether, where bikes from different clusters won’t dock at another cluster’s stations. This does not bode well for BABS.

As BABS expands, the clusters will get close enough that users could easily ride from one to the other.  By splitting what purports to be a unified system into chunks, riders won’t be able to do what it clearly seems like they should be able to do: ride across city lines. It will make rebalancing more difficult in the future, too, as the bikes won’t be interchangeable with one another.

There is a simpler reason why this is a bad idea: people will do dumb and unusual things with BABS, and splitting the system up will exacerbate the consequences.

As a long-time observer of Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) program, which uses the same technology as BABS, I can say that I’ve seen just about everything. People take out their bikes for the day, lock them to bike racks, take them on the Metro, bring them into the office, and all sorts of other things you definitely shouldn’t do with a bike share bike. (CaBi has assured me and others in DC that they are very willing to cut overage fees, especially for bikes out more than 24 hours, when people didn’t understand the system.)

The same thing will happen in the San Francisco Bay Area. People will take the bikes on Caltrain, do long-distance group rides, and other things that will cost them a great deal in overage charges, often unwittingly. If users can’t dock their bikes in different cities, they’ll get double pain. Not only will they get hit with overage fees, but they’ll be stranded with the wrong bike in the wrong area.

I suspect BABS separated the systems to make rebalancing easier. There’s no way for a cluster’s bikes to migrate away from it, so each city keeps its “fair share” of bikes. But this doesn’t account for users’ creativity or lack of knowledge about the system.

BABS should give people allowance to do things outside how they want users to ideally use their system. Let the hardcore cyclists do their marathon runs and brag about them on Strava – it’s free publicity! Let the inexperienced and the tourist take the bikes on Caltrain or ride them from San Jose to Mountain View. It would be easier to pick up bikes that people ride to the “wrong” place on BABS’ own time than to force innocent users to travel all the way back to wherever they came from. It would certainly beat the bad the publicity of an angry customer who, quite understandably, thought that all BABS stations were the same.

I have an email out to BAAQMD, BABS’ manager, to find out which clusters are interoperable and which aren’t. A comment on Cyclicious says Palo Alto and Mountain View bikes are interoperable, but I don’t know anything beyond that. See update above.

Bike share for the ferry terminals

Last week, Bay area Bike Share (BABS) launched to some fanfare. Caltrain commuters and residents in a few neighborhoods along the Peninsula and in San Francisco can now bike to or from transit, making the first and last mile a bit easier.

Calls for a broader bike share program to serve the East Bay, more Peninsula neighborhoods, and the whole of San Francisco have risen ever since the limited scope of the project was announced.

Advocates should add Vallejo and Larkspur-San Rafael to their list. As the outer ends of the Bay Area’s ferry service, they desperately need some way to bridge that last mile. Bike share is how to do it.

Why ferries?

A chronic problem with ferry service in the Bay Area is the lack of bi-directional demand. Though many San Franciscans work in Marin and Solano, it’s tough to get reliable transit service to their employment centers. Golden Gate Transit buses depart hourly heading north, even in the morning commute hour. SolTrans buses don’t even offer reverse-commute service.

While there is ferry service to Larkspur and Vallejo, there aren’t many jobs within walking distance of the terminals. Driving, then, is often the only viable mode, closing off those jobs available from car-less San Franciscans.

BABS stations could change that.

In Vallejo, the principal would be similar to the Caltrain satellite systems, like in Palo Alto. Scatter a few stations around the downtown, with a large one at the ferry terminal, and you’ve created is an easy way for commuters to head to or from the ferry terminal without the need to drive or to bring their own bike.

In Larkspur, the ferry terminal’s distance from downtown San Rafael, the county’s employment hub, means a more creative solution is needed.

A large BABS station at the ferry terminal, another in Greenbrae, and a few scattered around downtown San Rafael would allow reverse-commuters to use it as their last mile and draw San Rafael into the mindset of San Franciscans as a place to go.

As a bonus, both the Vallejo and Larkspur-San Rafael systems would boost ferry access. In Marin especially, it would boost access to the ferry for SF-bound riders and overcome the terminal’s poor transit service.

And, for both systems, it would improve access to biking in areas that could use some alternative transportation.