Palo Alto is planning a major expansion of its bike-share program as part of a larger deal that will increase the number of bicycles in the Bay Area’s shared system from 700 to over 7,000, Mercury News reports.
Bikes and memberships in the new system, which will be operated by Motivate and sponsored by Ford, will be interchangeable in Bay Area cities from San Jose to San Francisco, “making it one of the largest systems in the entire world,” San Jose’s chief transportation official, Joshuah Mello, told the Mercury News.
Palo Alto’s $1.1 million expansion will grow the city’s fleet from 37 to 350 by June 2017, and up to 700 in 2018. San Francisco’s fleet will increase by 4,500; East Bay’s by 1,400 and San Jose’s by 1,000.
Officials hope that adding more bikes and docking stations to the system — Palo Alto alone will get an additional 37 stations — will increase ridership. Bike-share systems strive for a standard of one trip per bicycle per day, but right now Palo Alto’s 37 bike system averages just 0.17. Mountain View has a rate of 0.39 trips; Redwood City averages a paltry .08 rides per bike per day. San Francisco reigns, with 2.51.
Mello argued that the system must be dense in order to get those rates up, saying Bay Area cities must “have a pretty complete network for people to actually start using it.”
“You can’t just run a bus for a couple of blocks and then complain that nobody is using it because it’s just not a feasible mode of transportation,” he said. “So bike-share has to be where people want to go. … We have to roll out a pretty dense, substantial system in order to truly test if it’s going to work.”
The city council unanimously voted to contract with Motivate for the system expansion, but some expressed doubts about the rationale.
“If this works and lots of people use it and so forth, it would be absolutely wicked cool,” said Councilman Eric Filseth, “but there’s technology risk and market risk.”
Residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on possible station locations in the coming months, and the city plans to start testing equipment in May.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.