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Bay Area Bike Share Expanding Despite Bicycle Maker's Bankruptcy

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission approved $8.7 million in funding Wednesday morning to expand the Bay Area Bicycle Share program to the East Bay in 2015 despite delays in existing expansion plans caused by the bankruptcy of a key business.

An expansion of Bay Area Bike Share's existing program in San Francisco, San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Redwood City planned for this year has already been delayed because the manufacturer of the bikes and docking stations filed for bankruptcy, according to a spokesman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which has been overseeing the bike sharing program.

In a statement in January the Montreal-based Public Bike System Company, also known as Bixi, announced it was filing for bankruptcy because customers had withheld $5.6 million in payments because of delays in rollouts of its technology.

Air district spokesman Tom Flannigan said Wednesday that there haven't been any issues with the company's technology so far in the Bay Area, as have been reported in cities like New York and Chicago.

"We've been really fortunate, we haven't had those same problems here," Flannigan said. "Our program is running pretty smoothly."

But a planned program expansion from an existing 700 bikes to 1,000 later this year has so far made no progress as Bixi is no longer manufacturing bicycles, Flannigan said. He said the company was recently sold but it remains unclear if or when production will resume.

Flannigan said that he does not anticipate that the company will fold entirely. The air district is monitoring the situation closely and still hopes to add 300 bikes to the system by the end of this year, he said.

The air district is in the process of transitioning management of the bike share system to the MTC, which will oversee the proposed addition of about 750 bikes to the East Bay.

The East Bay expansion would place about 400 bikes in Oakland, 350 in Berkeley, and some in Emeryville at locations such as colleges, BART stations, and other transit hubs such as the Emeryville Amtrak station.

MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler said Wednesday that while Bixi's bankruptcy filing "creates a sense of uncertainty," the underlying business model and idea of bike sharing remains sound.

He said that public demand for the bikes has been positive but that there were still challenges to overcome, including finding a private sector partner for the enterprise.

A report to an MTC board committee earlier this month said that the program has seen significant popularity in its pilot period, particularly in San Francisco, where the majority of the bikes are located.

There are 69 existing bike share stations in San Francisco, San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Redwood City, with 35 of those in San Francisco. About 90 percent of the regions 171,039 bike share rides have been in San Francisco, according to the MTC.

Existing established systems in New York and Minneapolis have about four rides per bike per day, and San Francisco, with more limited infrastructure so far, has averaged about two bike rides per bike per day, considered a successful pilot launch, according to the MTC.

Other cities, particularly on the Peninsula, have significantly lagged behind, such as Redwood City, which has seen only 0.09 rides per bike per day, the MTC said. The MTC will be conducting a more thorough analysis in those cities, reevaluating the location of the bike sharing stations and conducting outreach campaigns to pick up the pace.

But the East Bay, with good access to public transit, major colleges and universities, and a large base of existing bike share users, is considered a prime location for expansion of the bike share program. The MTC is conducting an evaluation of the best placement options for docking stations that will be presented at a meeting later this year.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan lauded the proposed expansion at a news conference outside the MTC building in Oakland Wednesday afternoon.

"Our real goal is to get people out of their cars and improve their health and the economy," Bates said.

Quan said bikes probably will be stationed in the downtown area initially and later on they will be stationed in other parts of the city.

Speaking alongside Bates and Quan, Renee Rivera, the executive director of Bike East Bay, said having the bike share program in Oakland and Berkeley is important because "we have a very dense urban area here."

Rivera said there is an interest in expanding the bike share program to other places in the East Bay, including Fremont and the Tri-Valley area.

The bike share program allows members to pick up bikes at a station and ride them to another station at their destination. Membership in the program costs $88 per year, $22 for a three-day membership or $9 for a 24-hour membership. Trips of 30 minutes or less are free for members, 30-60 minute trips cost $4, and each additional 30 minutes costs $7.

The program primarily is intended as a first- and last-mile transit option for public transit riders, with docking stations at train and ferry terminals and at locations 1-2 miles from public transit, enabling riders to bike to their destination without carrying a bicycle.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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