The Impending Failure of San Francisco’s Pilot Bike Share Program

Flat_tire_velib.jpgWhich will San Francisco's bike-share program resemble?
Lest it appear that Streetsblog doesn’t support bike-sharing in San Francisco, I should say from the outset that I love the successful bike-sharing programs that I’ve used, believe they are one of the more innovative new transit models available, and know that San Francisco is ripe for the roll-out of a large-scale program of its own.  But I am also among the large majority of Americans that Republican Pollster Frank Luntz found support infrastructure improvements and believe getting the job done right is more important than ribbon cutting and shovel readying.

Consider that a bicycle sharing program’s greatest assets are ubiquity and ease of use.  In Paris, Velib started with 10,000 bicycles at 750 stations, shortly thereafter jumped to 20,000 bicycles at 1450 stations, and is poised to add an additional 3,300 bikes at 300 new stations in the Parisian suburbs.  The city of Paris keeps all the revenue from the small annual fees for membership to the program and daily use fees paid by tourists and those who don’t join annually and the advertising firm JC Decaux operates the system and pays out an additional $4.3 million.

When I rode Velib for the first time in Paris shortly after its launch in 2007, the system was intuitive and the bicycle stations were everywhere (approximately 300 meters between each).  As a tourist with minimal French, I had no problem activating the system with my credit card and pedaling my way through the lovely streets of that fair city.  Over the course of three days I never went underground, never took a taxi and got some good exercise in the process.

My hopes were high when Mayor Newsom announced that San Francisco would join the nearly 100 cities around the world that have started bike sharing.  But now they are dashed. 

How grand a system will San Francisco have?  50 bikes.  To the tune of $1 million for start up and $500,000 annually for upkeep!