» 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.