Vélib’ = Vélo libre = Free Bike
Many cities are starting to look at having private companies provide nearly free bikes citywide, typically in exchange for outdoor advertising rights on transit shelters. This article is about San Francisco:
S.F. moving to catch up with European bike-share programs
Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
San Francisco is one push of the pedal closer to offering residents and visitors a bike-sharing program in an effort to ease traffic congestion and to promote health through exercise.
More than a dozen European cities have government-sponsored programs in which bikes are provided for people to share. Last month, Paris started the most ambitious program yet, providing more than 10,000 bikes at 750 stations and expecting that the program will be double in size by year’s end.
Now, hilly San Francisco is gearing up for a program of its own. A proposed city contract with Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. that gives the company advertising rights on transit shelters also would require the company to set up a bike-sharing program if the city opts for one. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the contract this month.
The cost to use such a program would be free or nominal, San Francisco leaders say, pointing to the Paris project as a possible model.
In Paris, particularly in the heart of the city, bike-docking stations are set up within a few hundred feet of each other. A one-day pass costs about $1.40; a weekly pass nears $7; an annual pass runs about $41. Inexpensive rental rates are charged on top of that, although the first half-hour of each trip is free. A deposit of about $200 is required in case the bike isn’t returned. The bikes are unlocked with a swipe of a credit card or a pre-paid card.
More than 100,000 Parisians have bought a one-year pass since the program started in July, and city officials report that the bikes have been taken on nearly 4 million trips.
The contract with Clear Channel falls under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Transportation Agency, which would have to tell Clear Channel to start the bike-sharing program. Mayor Gavin Newsom said that if he wins re-election he will urge the MTA to act on the option.
“The appetite for the system is there, and people will naturally gravitate toward it,” said Newsom, who lobbied for the bike-sharing provision in the contract.
He said that San Francisco residents want City Hall to make good on the official goal of reducing auto congestion and air pollution, and that biking is a good way to help do that. And the easier the city makes it for people to use a two-wheeler, the more likely they will, Newsom and other advocates say.
“People will think twice about the need to get in their car and go five or 10 blocks,” the mayor said.
Michael Poremba, a cycling enthusiast who lives in San Francisco and works in Redwood City, was in Paris in August and said he was amazed at what he saw. “Everywhere you looked, people were riding the bikes, tons of people,” he said.
“I think it could work really well here,” said Poremba, a 38-year-old data architect. “If people need to go on a quick errand, they could just grab a bike and go.”
The sturdy, three-speed, gray bikes used in Paris cost around $2,000 apiece. They’re embedded with electronic tracking devices, and a computerized system monitors the inventory at each station.
The company in charge of Paris’ outdoor ads, JC Decaux, paid the startup costs for the program and is responsible for maintaining it. The company has the exclusive right to 1,600 Parisian billboards.
Under the proposed San Francisco contract, Clear Channel would pay the MTA at least $306 million over the next 20 years and, if asked, fund and maintain a bike-sharing program. In return, Clear Channel would get the advertising rights on bus shelters and free-standing street kiosks.
What the proposed contract doesn’t spell out is the scope of the bicycle program.
Details such as how many bikes and stations would be included, where they would be located, what kind of technology would be used, whether there would be user fees and, if so, how much they would be, would be addressed in a separate agreement. Liability issues also would need to be decided.
Paul DeMaio, a bike-sharing consultant in Washington, D.C., said San Francisco should think big.
“It certainly would be in San Francisco’s best interest to have thousands of bicycles to make it a viable transportation mode,” he said.
Convenience is one of the keys to success, said Rachel Kraai, the programs manager for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. People use the bikes in the popular European programs to run errands, grab a bite during their lunch hours or to get from a train station to their office, she said.
It’s those mini trips, Newsom said, that will help San Francisco “create a more-sustainable transportation system.”
DeMaio said programs in Paris, Lyon, Barcelona and other cities that marry advanced technology with pedal power are the third generation of the concept.
The first generation, which San Francisco toyed with in the 1990s and other cities have experienced with mixed results, consists of placing a bunch of donated bikes – often painted yellow – around the city and letting people ride them for free, leaving them for the next user when they’re done. But that utopian vision often fails: The bikes are regularly vandalized or stolen.
The next generation of programs involve bikes stored in designated locked racks so at least people would know where to locate them, DeMaio said. Such programs can be found in Copenhagen and Helsinki, where users pay a minimal deposit when they pick up the bikes and get the deposits back when they return them – much like the system some grocery stores use for their carts.
The third generation of bike-sharing programs is high-tech, with electronic payment, tracking and locking systems.
San Francisco is not the only major city in the United States eager to start such a bike-sharing program. Washington, D.C., is moving forward with one, and officials in Portland, Ore., and Chicago have expressed interest. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who visited Paris last month, said his administration is exploring a bike-sharing endeavor, but he told reporters on his trip abroad that he didn’t know how it would translate in the Big Apple where bike theft is widespread, liability is a big worry, and there aren’t a lot of bike lanes.
Newsom said he’s heard similar concerns from people in his own city government, but he said if Paris could work it out, so can San Francisco. Newsom said it is unclear how long a full-scale program could take to develop.