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  • by Yonah Freemark
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In L.A., efforts are afoot to make bike share a genuine part of the transit network

L.A. bike share

» Late to the bike-sharing game, Los Angeles nevertheless could offer an important innovation: Transfers to and from transit.

You might say that bike sharing has conquered the world, invading city after city since the first modern systems featuring information technology opened in Europe in the 1990s. Now more than 40 U.S. cities have systems in operation. They’ve been attracted to the relative ease of implementing bike sharing, the low costs of operation, and the popular interest in the programs which indeed do a lot to expand mobility in cities.

Los Angeles is the glaring outlier, the only one of the ten largest American cities with no system. Though the City of Los Angeles planned a system in 2013, that proposal fell apart after difficulties with permitting got in the way. In the meantime, other cities in L.A. County—including Santa Monica and Long Beach—have implemented new dock-less networks.

Metro is evaluating a system that would allow customers to transfer between buses, trains, and bikes using a transit card.

Now L.A. is moving ahead with a countywide system that could eventually include 4,000 bikes distributed across the region, creating a network similar in size to systems in Chicago, New York, or Washington. The initial phase will provide 1,100 B-Cycle bikes at 65 stations downtown beginning early next year. Future phases could extend into other parts of the county and will be partly funded by local governments; communities currently identified include Beverly Hills, Culver City, Huntington Park, Pasadena, East L.A., North Hollywood, West Hollywood, Venice, and areas along the Red and Expo rail lines.

Though late, L.A.’s proposal could be a model for a new type of bike sharing. Not only will the system be operated by the county transit agency Metro (most systems are operated by city departments of transportation or independent groups), but it could also be tightly integrated into the transit system by allowing people to transfer directly from buses and trains to bikes—definitely a first.

According to the L.A. Times‘ Laura Nelson, Metro is considering a membership model similar to that offered in other cities where customers pay an annual fee for an unlimited number of half-hour trips but is also evaluating a system that would charge customers a flat fee for a bike ride equivalent to a transit fare (currently $1.75) and then allow them to transfer freely between buses, trains, and bikes for up to two hours.

In an interview, Metro Communications Manager Dave Sotero emphasized to me that bike share integration with L.A.’s TAP transit fare card is a priority and that Metro is “hoping for a unified fare structure.” But there won’t be a final plan for transfers until the agency’s September board meeting, and a decision would follow that.

Whatever solution Metro eventually identifies should prioritize direct integration with the transit network so as to encourage multimodal trip-taking and further encourage L.A.’s rather dramatic transition away from single-person automobiles that has been been a feature of the region since its residents passed Measure R, a regional transit sales tax, in 2008. This could take a number of forms.

For one, L.A. could provide its customers the option of combining monthly transit passes with bike share. This could mean a small additional cost on top of the $100-a-month price of the unlimited transit card now offered. Rather than requiring customers to sign up for the bike share system separately from the transit system, the two could be integrated into one pass; this could encourage more use of buses and trains. This wouldn’t have to exclude the possibility of allowing people to buy annual bike share passes independently of the transit system.

Unlike other bike sharing systems, L.A.’s could provide cheap rates for single rides rather than requiring people to buy day passes.

Metro could also, as Nelson wrote, allow customers to transfer from the transit system to bikes, or vice verse, at the cost of a single transit ride. This would be a dramatically different model than most bike share systems, which have a minimum one-day subscription that is much more costly and aimed toward occasional tourist use (in Washington, for example, the one-day pass is $8). This lower fare would encourage spur-of-the-moment rides by people who don’t want to commit to a day, month, or annual pass but who would still like the option to occasionally use a shared bike.*

This would allow people to use bike share without having to be signed up as a member, a current condition for other systems. This is hardly a revolutionary concept. Imagine if we only let people onto buses and trains if they had previously bought unlimited passes; why enforce such a restrictive policy on a part of the transit system?

L.A. wouldn’t be the first city to allow riders to use transit fare cards to check out bikes. Paris, for example, allows users to tap their transit fare cards to unlock bikes; so do Chinese systems in Guangzhou and Hangzhou. But the three major U.S. systems in Chicago, New York, and Washington currently require people to use transit-incompatible key fobs to check out bikes.

That’s unfortunate, since many people use bikes for a portion of a more extensive multimodal journey. In Denver, for example, 20 percent of bike share rides in 2010 were combined with the transit network. Why not, then, see bike share as another element of the city’s transit network?

Indeed, giving all bike share members transit fare cards or allowing them to use their existing fare cards on bike share would encourage transit use by building in the option of transit as a default choice—a fare card in everyone’s wallet will encourage people to take the train, bus, or bike for trips that might otherwise be accomplished by driving or taking a cab. (What New Yorker doesn’t have a MetroCard in his or her pocket? Imagine how many more people would use the city’s bike share system if they could use a MetroCard to check out a bike.)

Integrating bike share directly into Metro’s overall transit system and its fare structure could offer dramatic benefits for the riding public, making bikes, buses, and trains all more useful. A successful experiment in L.A. could be a model for cities around the world.

* Bike share passes typically require a link to a credit card, since implementers want to have insurance against stolen bikes. Metro would likely only be able to offer the transfer to bike share to customers with credit cards linked to their TAP accounts.

Image at top: A mock-up of a bike for L.A.’s bike sharing system, from L.A. Metro.

For rail services, downtown sometimes isn’t the right place for a terminus

Leipzig S-Bahn

» For commuter rail, through-running is becoming increasingly popular in city after city looking to take advantage of faster travel times, direct suburb-to-suburb services, and more downtown stops. Leipzig, Germany, whose City Tunnel opened in 2013, is a case in point.

There’s a romantic notion of the downtown rail terminal in the American popular culture, often expressed in movies and books. It’s a scene that is easy to conjure up in one’s mind: The steaming locomotive comes slowly to a halt at the end of a track, passengers stream out into a giant waiting room, and from there they exit into the bustling metropolis. The railroad terminal is the physical manifestation of the end of a journey and the exciting moment of arrival.

For railroad companies and government agencies, the need to create this welcoming travel environment has inspired multi-billion-dollar station redevelopment schemes. The argument made has been that in order to

Continue reading For rail services, downtown sometimes isn’t the right place for a terminus »

Will autonomous cars change the role and value of public transportation?

self-driving

» Self-driving cars could alter how we get around—and also change the way our cities work.

Even the concept of a self-driving car is enough to get people talking in raptures about the potential for a utopian future society. It could fulfill the promise of “personal rapid transit” transportation planners hoped to provide decades ago, offering personalized point-to-point service without the hassle, congestion, or crashes involved with driving.

The autonomous vehicle, some predict, will replace many of today’s forms of transportation and radically expand mobility by allowing people, including the young, old, and disabled, to get around without having to walk, without having to know how to drive, and without having to wait for a bus or train. Operating without a driver and using electricity for power, the autonomous vehicle could be cheap to operate and environmentally friendly. It could, in fact, replace car ownership for many households.

We’re years away from the

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Utica Avenue, OneNYC, and New York’s growth

utica

» New York’s Subway is at a breaking point with an exploding number of riders. Is it time to expand the system deeper into Brooklyn?

It’s hard to fathom, but between 2009 and 2014—just five years—the New York Subway system’s ridership increased by 384 million annual rides, far more than any other U.S. rail system carries in total. This change was accomplished with no system expansions during the period, pushing more and more people onto the same already-crowded routes.

New York City’s increasing population is riding on the bench seats of the city’s subway cars. Now the City is contemplating ways to expand the system down Utica Avenue in Brooklyn; is the time right for expansion when the existing system is so crowded?

While growing ridership is a manifestation of the city’s relatively strong economy and a seemingly insatiable appetite to live there, a more crowded Subway system means lower quality of life for

Continue reading Utica Avenue, OneNYC, and New York’s growth »

When American transit agencies ignore the world’s move to open gangways

open-gangways

» Virtually every new metro or subway train purchased by transit agencies over the past ten years has been built with open gangways—allowing passengers to walk from one end of the train to the other. Except in the United States.

New York City’s Second Avenue Subway project, which in its first phase will bring transit service north from 63rd to 96th Streets in Manhattan, will provide many benefits for commuters, offering three new stations and much easier access from the Upper East Side to western Midtown. It will reduce congestion on the Lexington Avenue Subway (4/5/6) by as much as 13 percent—a boon for commuters on the single-most-used transit corridor in the country. And it will respond to the simple fact that New York City is growing quickly; it has added half a million people since 2000 and continues to expand.

But the Second Avenue Subway project has its issues—notably the

Continue reading When American transit agencies ignore the world’s move to open gangways »