One year after the sturdy, light-blue bikes first hit the streets, Bay Area Bike Share is being deemed a success. But the system's long-anticipated expansion remains stalled because the supplier filed for bankruptcy and the company that operates it is restructuring.
Since the system launched on Aug. 29, 2013, with 700 bikes at 70 stations in San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose, more than 32,000 people have taken 300,000 trips, traveling a total of 630,000 miles, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
“I think it’s gone really well,” said Heath Maddox, a bike-share planner at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “We would like it to be bigger, and so would everybody. But if that’s the chief complaint, I’m satisfied at this point.”
The benefit of starting smaller and later than anticipated was that software bugs, which plagued bike-share systems in New York and Chicago, could be worked out, said Maddox. Air district officials say the system now has 5,000 annual members and 28,000 "casual" members.
A data challenge that drew 35 entries offers some creative visualizations of trip patterns. The bulk of trips have taken place in San Francisco, with its 35 stations. Daily ridership broke a record Monday, topping more than 1,200 trips, said Maddox.
Andrew Stitt of Alameda was spotted docking a bike at the Civic Center station Tuesday. He said he uses Bay Area Bike Share to complete the last leg of his commute from BART to his job as a software engineer in SoMa.
"I think it's awesome that we have a system that allows people to make these last-mile connections so they can get out of their cars, get on their bikes, but not have to worry about lugging their bike everywhere or it getting stolen," said Stitt.
The bikes are being used in San Francisco an average of three times a day. "We’d like to see double that, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the bikes to be used at that level of intensity when the system is as constrained as it is," said Maddox.
An expansion to 1,000 bikes systemwide is currently funded. This includes 17 more stations in San Francisco, including locations in the Castro and Mission. Other locations for stations are still being worked out.
Beyond those plans, SFMTA officials hope to launch an additional 250 stations and 3,000 bikes in San Francsico, at a cost of $25 million. The city is currently seeking private funding for that.
Although several companies have come forward, Maddox said the city has been unable to move talks forward because of the uncertain future of Public Bike System Company (PBSC), a Canadian firm that supplies the bikes and software to the Bay Area, as well as bike-share programs in other U.S. cities.
"The industry is going through some upheaval," explained Ralph Borrmann, a spokesman for the air district, which oversees Bay Area Bike Share. He said the operator, Alta Bike Share, is restructuring and that PBSC filed for bankruptcy and was sold.
"I think long term this will actually benefit the industry, in terms of bringing new technology, new manufacturers, and opening a startup culture and providing more options for the future," said Borrmann.
A spokeswoman for Alta Bike Share said she could not comment, and PBSC did not respond to a request for an interview. It's unknown at this point when production of the bikes, stations and software will start up again.
John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which plans to take over administering the program, said more bikes could be on the ground within the next 18 to 24 months.
Planning, meanwhile, has begun to expand to the East Bay by September 2016. Between 600 to 700 bikes would be placed at up to 70 stations in Oakland and Berkeley, with a few stations in Emeryville, said Goodwin.
The slow pace of expansion has left some members frustrated. Yosh Asato of San Francisco was returning a bike to the Van Ness Avenue station Tuesday. She said she works downtown, where she can't bring a bike into the office, and uses bike share frequently to get around the city.
"I think starting small was a good idea," said Asato. "It meant that we had a small system that runs well, but the delay in the expansion has been a disappointment. If it doesn’t expand soon, they’re going to lose momentum."