Mountain View Voice

News - July 19, 2013

Bike-sharing program debuts in MV next month

Credit card to be all it takes to rent on of 70 bikes in MV

by Daniel DeBolt

Memberships went on sale Monday for the bike-sharing system debuting in Mountain View and the Peninsula next month. Officials are promising local users won't see the glitches that recently triggered a slew of complaints in New York.

Seventy bikes will be placed at seven stations around Mountain View, part of a 700 bike-system extending from key train stations on the Peninsula — San Francisco, Redwood City, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Jose. It will be run by Alta Bike Share, the same company responsible for New York's new system. The system made headlines when complaints poured in about the number of automated bike stalls that wouldn't release bikes or take them back, frustrating commuters and tourists and giving the system the nickname "Glitchy bike."

"Alta has assured us that they've done a software patch so that doesn't happen here," said Damian Breen of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, one of a half-dozen government agencies cooperating on the project. He added that Alta had managed to repair all of the faulty stations in New York.

What may disappoint users is finding empty racks. Officials admit there may not be enough bikes to meet demand and are quick to remind people that this is a "pilot" project. A second phase is in the works to add another 300 bikes.

People have complained, "You didn't deliver it fast enough, it's not big enough," Breen said of the system, which was being planned as far back as 2009. "When you consider what we were funded to do with this grant we received, we were very successful. What we're launching is a pilot. This system could be a building block for a larger and Bay Area-wide system. The directors from our board and a lot of our leaders in the Bay Area would like to see this system become larger."

Breen said corporate sponsorship of the system may help fund its expansion, as was done in New York, where the bikes have the name of a well-known bank painted on them.

The VTA's Aiko Cuenco said bike sharing could be considered "an extension of the transit system," providing a connection from train stations, for example, to wherever someone is going in the "last mile" of their journey.

"We price it in such a way that people don't keep the bike any longer than is needed," Cuenco said. "It's not a rental system — it's an extension of the transit system."

The system encourages short rides by charging no fee for rides of 30 minutes or less, but charges $4 if that stretches to an hour and then $7 for each 30 minutes after that. Those looking to ride for longer periods can get around the time limit by riding to another station and switching to another bike.

Mountain View resident and bike blogger Janet LaFleur recalled a recent trip she made around San Francisco that could have have been simpler using bike share, as everywhere she went was within a block of a planned station It also makes downtown San Jose easier to get to from the nearest train station, a distance too far for most people to walk, but close enough to bike.

In Mountain View, the city's Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the City Council approved bike share stations at the downtown Caltrain station, City Hall, San Antonio shopping center, the San Antonio Caltrain station, the corner of El Camino Real and Castro Street, Rengstorff Avenue and California Street and the Evelyn Avenue light rail station.

"I'd use it just so I wouldn't have to lug my bike on the train," said Rebecca Tsang after learning about the system at an information booth during Mountain View's Thursday Night Live event on Castro Street. Her friend had a different reaction, saying the system appeared "too complicated" at first glance.

The system works for anyone with a credit card and at least $9, which is the cost of a 24-hour membership. There's also a $22 three-day membership and an $88 annual membership.

A stolen bike, however, comes at a heavy cost. If the bike you use is stolen, "My understanding is the person who checked it out, his credit card will be billed $1,200," said Helen Kim, civil engineer for the city of Mountain View.

An exact date for when the system will be up and running next month has yet to be announced.

For more information, visit bayareabikeshare.com.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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