As Bike-Share Pilot Lurches Along, Supe Wiener Calls for Full-Scale Launch

Barclays Cycle Hire in London. Photo: ##

While San Franciscans eagerly await the repeatedly-delayed launch of the Bay Area’s small-scale bike-share pilot program, which has now been downsized to a minuscule 700 bikes (350 of them in SF), Supervisor Scott Wiener says San Francisco needs to take the initiative to move ahead and launch a “full-scale system” throughout the city by next year.

Wiener plans to introduce a resolution [PDF] at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting calling on the SF Municipal Transportation Agency to move beyond the pilot being planned by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and launch a citywide bike-share system by 2014. American cities including New York, Chicago, Portland, and Los Angeles are all expected to launch their respective systems by then.

Scott Wiener at Bike to Work Day 2011. Photo: ## Serna, SFBC##

“All over the world, cities are recognizing the tremendous value of city-wide bike-share programs in reducing traffic, improving public transit and stimulating the local economy,” Wiener said in a statement. “Here in San Francisco, we should be doing everything we can to establish and start reaping the benefits from a full-scale bike share program.”

Bike-share, which the SFMTA has called one of the most cost-effective ways to increase bike ridership, was originally promised to launch in the spring of 2012 in five cities along the Peninsula, from San Francisco to San Jose. However, the BAAQMD has delayed the 1,000-bike pilot program, citing the general complexity of coordinating a regional system between five municipalities.

Karen Schkolnick, the BAAQMD’s grant programs manager, said the current launch date is set for this August, and that the pilot will initially only include 700 bikes, though the agency expects to deliver the full 1,000 bikes within the following six months. The reason, she said, is that the $7,000,000 program won’t be adequate to provide the 1,000-bike system as originally thought, and the agency hopes to get more funding from private sponsors with the initial 700-bike launch. “Basically, we used local funding to seed it,” she said.

Ultimately, said Schkolnick, the BAAQMD hopes the system will sustain itself on sponsorship funds and membership fees, and expand to the East Bay with as many as 10,000 bikes. But Wiener said he wants to make sure “we’re not just, in the future, waiting on the Air Board. I believe we should be pushing forward with our own expansion.”

“We know what we need here, and we need a lot more bike-sharing,” he said.

The SF Bicycle Coalition is “fully behind” Wiener’s call, said Deputy Director Kit Hodge. “San Francisco is ripe for the opportunity — [bike-share] is a job creator, it connects the city for huge numbers of people and opens up bicycling for everyone, and we’re very excited about that,” she said. “Other cities are showing that to get going, it doesn’t have to be fully regional right away. We can start in San Francisco and build from there.”

In a statement, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the agency is “excited to move forward with the first phase of our bike-sharing program this summer,” but didn’t indicate whether or not it might try to expedite the full-scale launch.

Schkolnick said the BAAQMD also plans to launch a request for sponsorships by next week, and that the bike-share system will likely carry the name of that sponsor, as has been done with London’s Barclays Cycle Hire and New York’s Citi Bike, a system set to launch in May with 5,500 bikes and expand to 10,000 in 2014, fully underwritten by private funding.

Hodge said that while there may be pros and cons to relying on sponsorship funding, “If we have an opportunity to move forward on a project like this, it would be really transformative for the city.”

In London, Wiener said he’s witnessed how “wildly successful” bike-share is, with heavy demand often leaving stations nearly empty of bikes. “London is a city where people drive, and they also use transit and bike, so it’s a good model,” he said.

A news release from Wiener’s office cited stats showing the impacts that bike-share systems in Paris and Hangzhou, China have had on car traffic:

The Velib system in Paris, which consists of over 20,000 bikes and 1,800 stations, reduced traffic in the city by 5% in its first year. A March 2010 study found that in Hangzhou, where there are over 60,000 bikes in the program, 78% of car owners used bike share for trips previously taken by car.

“To be a true transit-first city, you have to give people as many viable alternatives as possible,” said Wiener. “If we want to increase biking in the city, a robust bike-share program is a critical element of that.”

  • Keith

    Please do your homework rather than just copying the mistakes in the press release.  NYC will not launch with 10,000 bikes.  From their website: Citi Bike will start in May: Citi Bike will launch in May 2013 with 5,500 bikes at nearly 300 stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn.

  • voltairesmistress

    Will a bike share project with too few bikes doom the pilot project to failure?  I am concerned that people won’t use the bikes enough, if they can’t reliably plan their commute to include a bike share at the other end of a bart or caltrain ride.  If there isn’t always a bike in the dock, a commuter has always to have an alternative that gets him/her to the meeting, office, etc. on time.  That uncertainty, in turn, could diminish bike share use.  I imagine Supervisor Wiener is probably thinking of the wrong lessons that might be learned by starting up the project with too few bikes on hand.  Anyone know?

  • @c20c7fd3b874474b5230d4410868f6ef:disqus  Ah, please excuse the error — fixed it. The launch numbers have changed, most recently after Hurricane Sandy. From Streetsblog NYC: “Instead of beginning with 7,000 bikes at 420 stations, then ramping up to 10,000 bikes, the May launch will consist of 5,500 bikes at 293 stations, expanding to 7,000 bikes by the end of 2013. The city still intends to implement a 10,000-bike system, though in 2014, a new administration will be in place.”

  • 350 bikes?? That’s a joke, right? Great leadership Mr. Mayor.

  • Right now we have 0 bike. Let’s get it going and add more from there.

  • Usage takes time to grow, so I don’t see what’s wrong with starting with a smaller number. It would be easier to add more once the system is in place and people get to see and experience it.

  • Mario Tanev

    I applaud Scott Wiener for this stance. I agree that SF has been dragging its heels too long and aiming for a regional bike share is just stupid at this moment. If SF is successful the other cities will follow suit. With the approach they are pursuing now, the SF portion will most likely be successful, and the peninsula portion, not so much, thus dragging the overall impression of the system down. SF should NOT be lumped with low density cities (although long term, being able to access the peninsula bike share at a discount would be useful).

    That said, if a corporate sponsor doesn’t turn out, will Wiener be willing to help find the money to expand it ourselves? I just don’t like this sponsorship model, even though it works OK (not that great) in London. My biggest disappointment with the sponsorship model are our new bus “shelters” which don’t protect riders from anything (look at the new one at Geary and Divisadero westbound, that no longer has seats, doesn’t have enough space for all passengers, is very narrow and doesn’t protect from wind nor rain as there are no side walls). They are a total failure.

  • mikesonn

    I’ll bookmark your comment, @facebook-616986286:disqus . The problem with low rollout numbers is that there is a critical mass number needed to produce a full uptake of the system. Start too small and the unreliability and too few locations make it difficult to use. If SF starts over that hump (whatever that number may be, but it is >> 350 bikes), then use will feed more use and therefore more demand. 350 bikes will just appear to be a huge failure and anti-bike types will flood SFGate and SFExam with LTEs about the “huge waste of money those damn bikes are” and it’ll be a huge uphill battle to get enough bikes to make the system usable.

  • What now we have 0 bikes. If the choice is 350 this summer or 500 or whatever a year later, I rather have 350 this summer. And what is the definition of failure anyway?

    Some folks may not have easy bike sharing access right away, but could be so if the program is expanded. So they still have to wait whether we’re starting out with 350 or whatever number is.

  • mikesonn

    Ok Andy, whatever you say.

  •  Andy – let’s say we started a new bus service from SF to Palo Alto. It runs once in the AM, and once back in the PM. That’s it. Oh, and the AM run is at 6 AM and the PM run is at 3 PM.

    As soon as usage grows, we’ll add more buses.

    But the service as is would be so useless that ridership would be low, nobody would see it or experience it, and it would just fade away…

    Get it?

  •  I don’t think it is comparable to your example. The bus example that you used wasn’t planned for success. While a 10-15 minute service would be desirable, you can still plan for a service with better ridership with limited budget and service (Google buses don’t run every 15 minutes on a single route). The proposed bike share is to place in downtown area adjecent to rail transit. So it is more like peak hour bus service timed with rail.

    The biggest barrier is to get the institutional infrastructure started to support bike share. Once it is started it is easier to expand.

  • The reason that other cities are in the program is that they also pay for it with their own funding. They’re not going to give all the money to SF for an SF only program.

    However I do think that they don’t need to have everything hammered out for all the cities to get started. If one city is ahead of others in planning, then that city should start first without having other cities completed. But I do think that SF is one of the slower cities. So even if it is a SF only program, I think it will take just as long to get it started.

  • Joe Schumpeter

    NYC started with 50,000 bike vision….then it became 10,000, then 7,000, then 5,500 (about a tenth of original vision).  More importantly it still intends to use more expensive, less flexible smart-dock technology instead of lower cost, more flexible smart lock technology (about a quarter of the price).

    NYC’s own SoBi bikeshare company with the newer technology was just awarded the Tampa contract.  NYC would do well to look at its what its homegrown entrepreneurs are doing.  If they did, the original vision would still be possible.

    Its all a matter of time before the newer technology completely takes over the older technology.  It is imprudent for governments not to think about the direction of technology when setting up what will be a multi-million dollar system.

    In addition to SoBi in Tampa is viaCycle highlighted in Ft Collins and operating at Georgia Tech.

  • Hate to say it, but maybe San Francisco should just get all the bikes they’ll have available this summer and the Peninsula can get there’s at some future time. We shouldn’t compromise our central city’s bike share program so that a few people can cruise around the Main Streets on the Peninsula.

  • mikesonn

    That’s the MTC in their infinite wisdom.

  • Tom Glendening

    Take a look at Tampa – newer technology.  SF could have 5x as many bikes for the same price as new system.


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