It’s been just over a week since the Bay Area Bike Share pilot program opened for service in five cities: San Francisco, San Jose, Redwood City, Palo Alto and Mountain View. So far, 3000 people have bought annual, day or three day memberships to ride the bikes (including me) for a variety of reasons. Last week I chatted with people riding bike share bikes around town and asked them what they thought.
Sunday: On my way to Caltrain I met Brett, who was coming back from a ride on the Stevens Creek Trail to Shoreline Park and back. That’s a longer trip than the 30 minute free ride period so he paid $4 for an extra 30 minutes, but he didn’t mind. “I’m not a biker,” he said, “I’m trying this out to see if I like it before I buy a bike.” He was smiling as he docked his bike and headed for the Farmers Market.
Wednesday: On my way to work I ran into Alex and Dennis as they were undocking bikes at San Jose Diridon station. It was Alex’s third day commuting with bike share and she was thrilled. Before bike share, she took Caltrain from San Francisco, either bringing her bike aboard or taking a shuttle for the last mile to the office. With bike share, she won’t risk getting bumped due to overcrowding on the bike car, and she won’t miss the shuttle if her train is late. Like Alex, Dennis lives in San Francisco. He only works at his company’s San Jose office occasionally. Having a regional system that works in both cities is important to him.
Thursday: On my way home from work I met a man near the VTA Light Rail station who was heading home on a bike share bike. “I’m lucky to have a station near my home,” he said. I didn’t have time to ask him which station before he rode away, but he was headed toward either the bike share station at Rengstorff Park or the San Antonio Caltrain Station.
What about me? Unlike Brett, I already have a bike. Unlike Alex and Dennis, I don’t have a bike share station by my office. And unlike the last guy I met, there’s not a station by my home. So when did I use my annual membership? On a trip to San Francisco last weekend with a couple of friends. We had lunch in North Beach, watched a bicycle race at Levi Strauss Plaza and stopped in at the Ferry Building for a little shopping.
We learned that bike share is a great way to get around San Francisco’s downtown and waterfront, but made a few mistakes that show there’s a slight learning curve to using the system. The instructions on the Bay Area Bike Share web site and on the station kiosks are a good start, but to make your first trips more trouble-free than ours, here are a few things you should know.
Undocking the Bike
With my annual pass, checking out a bike is quick and easy. I pushed my key fob into a slot on the bike’s docking station and pulled back firmly on the handlebars to release the bike. Make sure the bike’s kickstand is up first, though. I banged my shin on the kickstand the first time.
A day pass requires using the kiosk at the station, inserting a credit card, giving them your mobile phone number, and going through a lot menus on the screen. In the end they give you a 5-digit code that you punch on the left side of the bike’s dock. For trips later that day, you’ll need to go back to the kiosk and insert your credit card to get a new 5-digit code. My friend Deanna had a few frustrating minutes trying to reuse her original code before realizing she needed to go back to the kiosk to get a new one. At least there are fewer menus to click through on the second trip, though.
Watch the Clock
The thirty minute no-extra-charge period goes by quicker than you think, so don’t play tourist and stop for photos too much along the way. To maximize time, plan your route and where you’ll dock your bike near your destination before you punch in your code or push in your key fob. You may want to adjust the seat height, put your bag in front holder, and put your helmet on before you undock the bike. And don’t forget to note your start time.
Docking the Bike
Docking the bike at a station near your destination sounds simple–you just push the bike into an available dock–but it’s easy to do it wrong. The trick is to line the bike up straight before pushing it in, hold both handlebars and push it in hard. You’ll know you’ve done it right if the dock’s green light turns on. To be sure it’s docked, you can also tug back on the bike to see if it releases. That’s the only way we could tell for sure at a few docks that were facing into the bright sun’s glare.
If you realize you may run over the 30 minute time limit, or know you’ll need more than that to get to your destination, try dock surfing. Dock surfing is simply swapping out bikes at an intermediate station along your route. If you’re a nervous Nellie like me and don’t want the stress of rushing, plan for an intermediate stop. With an annual pass, it’s pretty fast to grab a new bike.
One of the bikes my friend Michelle undocked was stuck in the lowest gear and wouldn’t shift. We returned it to the nearest station, pushed the repair button on the dock, and turned the seat around backwards. So if you see a bike with the seat turned 180 degrees backward, don’t try to undock it.
Download the App
Download the Cycle Finder app on your smart phone before your first trip. It shows station locations and number of available bikes and open docks in real time. It’s pretty basic but useful. If it only integrated recommended bike routes it out be outstanding. I kept finding myself flipping from map to map to navigate to the station in North Beach that was closest to our restaurant.
Security and Theft Prevention
Once you undock a bike you are responsible for the bike until it’s docked again. So don’t leave the bike unattended or locked anywhere other than an official station, and make sure it’s docked correctly. Also, with single and three day passes, don’t let anyone see or hear your code number. If you are slow to type it in and undock a bike someone could use it before you. The same is true of an annual members key fob. Guard it carefully and report it immediately if lost or stolen.
Have you tried the Bay Area Bike Share yet? If so, where did you go? Do you have any advice for other users? If not, where can you see yourself using it?