For the hundreds of people who use some combination of a bike and public transit to get around the Bay Area, the commute often means lugging bikes on and off Caltrain or bus racks.
But starting Aug. 29, they'll have another option: the Bay Area Bike Share pilot program, which will put 1,000 bikes in five Bay Area cities by next spring.
"There are times I don't want to take my bike on the train because it's a hassle," said Janet Lafleur, of Mountain View, who regularly travels by bike. "I can see myself using bike share in San Francisco, to go to the Ferry Building or the Asian Art Museum."
For the first phase of the $11.2 million project, 70 stations will go live in San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose in time for the Labor Day weekend.
"The main goal of the pilot program is to evaluate bike sharing's potential in the Bay Area and to effectively reduce vehicle traffic and improve air quality," said Brandi Childress, public information officer for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, one of eight local agencies partnering on the project. The program will roll out in two stages: this month's initial launch, with another 300 bikes added in early 2014.
Bike sharing is designed to solve a series of transit issues. In cities, it has become a solution for the "first mile, last mile problem" by helping commuters travel the short distance between their homes or offices and public transportation. Here in the Bay Area, it's designed to thin out overcrowded bike cars on Caltrain and improve air quality.
"Bike share can replace short trips taken by car with short trips taken by bike," said John Brazil, bicyclist and pedestrian program coordinator for the city of San Jose. "You can either buy a membership -- annual or three-day on the Web -- or you can walk up to an automated station (for a one-day pass.)" An annual membership is $88 and a three-day pass is $22.
By nature, bike share is designed for short trips, so bikes will be rented out in 30-minute intervals. Ideally, commuters will check out a bike at their neighborhood station, check it back in at a transit hub and take public transportation to work. It can also be used for midday activities -- running errands or getting lunch -- without having to drive or find parking. Pass holders, after paying with a credit or debit card online, will be given either a key or a ride code to unlock a bike, which can be returned to any station within the city in which the bike originated. They can take as many 30-minute trips a day as they like. Any trip longer than that will cost an additional $4 for each half-hour.
According to San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, the success of the program will depend on how well it can adjust in response to bike use behavior.
"This has been specifically designed to learn from our mistakes and to fix them inexpensively," he said. "The good news is that these stations are movable -- where the program is successful and where it's not, we're able to adjust. We're not going to get it right the first time."
Alta Bicycle Share, the largest bike share operator in North America and the group handling the Bay Area program, is continuing to install stations in transit zones and "key destinations" in anticipation of this month's launch -- college campuses, large employers and civic centers. It is using a model that has already found some success in cities such as Chicago and New York, where there are thousands of bikes available for sharing.
Surveys and GPS data will help officials determine which sites are popular and efficient and where improvements can be made.
"One of the beauties of this operator is that the stations are all modular, they don't need to be fixed to the ground, they simply rest," Brazil said. All stations will run off solar and battery power, using Wi-Fi for wireless communications.
According to Brazil, the "vast majority" of the public response has been positive, with agencies getting feedback from public workshops and discussing plans with bicycle coalitions and citizen groups. "The two responses I get are one, 'I'm so excited and I want to use it,' and two, 'tell me what this thing is again?' " he said.
Work remains ongoing for the project: Agencies are working on pursuing corporate partnerships like the one New York has with Citi, slapping the bank's logo on 10,000 bikes throughout the five boroughs. Bay Area Bike Share is also exploring partnerships with local bike shops and schools to provide subsidized or free helmets, mandatory under state law for riders under 18.
Lafleur, who has already bought an annual pass, believes bike sharing will take off in the Bay Area. Whether a pilot program of this size will show that, however, is a different story.
"I know that there's demand here, my concern is that the pilot is pretty small," she said. "You need to have a lot of destinations close together. I'm not sure what they're going to do, unlike New York City, where they just went big."
Contact Edward Ngai at 408-920-5064.