Bike sharing seen as smart venture 

A bike-sharing program strongly backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom that would put 2,750 bikes on city streets could be used as much as 5 million times a year by cycling enthusiasts.

Under a program similar to ones currently running in cities like Paris and Barcelona, Spain, local residents would register with the program and pay a fee for each trip — based on distance — each time they used the bike, which would be available on streets throughout San Francisco.

If The City were to go forward with the 2,750-bike program — a number Newsom has cited — between 1 million and 5 million daily passes, and 4,000 to 20,000 annual membership fees would be sold each year, according to a preliminary analysis by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees bike operations in The City.

The amount of revenue that would be generated has yet to be determined, as fees have not been set.

Through a contractual clause with the SFMTA, Clear Channel Outdoor appeared to be poised to deliver the bike-sharing program, but the advertising giant announced it was pulling out in December, a move that drew ire from Newsom.

The mayor has made the bike-sharing program a major priority, even declaring that SFMTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford “will not be here if he does not get that bike-sharing program done.”

With Clear Channel no longer considered a potential partner, the SFMTA is in the midst of reviewing candidates for the bike-sharing plan, transit agency spokesman Judson True said.

“We want to see this up and running as quickly as possible,” he said.

A typical public-private partnership would have an advertising partner pay for the staffing and maintenance of the bikes, and The City would collect the daily fares and annual membership fees.

If the SFMTA is unable to come to terms with a private advertising partner, it may be able to jump-start the program with public funding.

The transit agency has applied for a $4 million federal grant for bike sharing and, if approved, the funding — which would provide infrastructure for 1,000 bikes — could be released in October.

Leah Shahum, spokesman for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said if a bike-sharing program were to flourish in The City, it would have to be a robust operation, like the 2,750-cycle proposal that was studied by the SFMTA.

“About half of the trips that people take on their bike in this city are less than 2 miles,” Shahum said. “So having a network that absolutely blankets The City in bikes would be great for San Francisco.”

Ross Halverson — marketing manager for Blazing Saddles, a local private bike rental company — said there’s some concern about how the bike-sharing network would affect the company’s business.

“We’re keeping an eye on it, especially if there are plans to have bikes right next to our locations,” Halverson said. “But for the most part, we don’t see much of a conflict, since we’re much more tourist-driven, and bike sharing is mostly a program for locals.”


Pedaling through The City

128,000 Estimated number of daily bike trips in San Francisco
8,441 Cyclists observed in city’s most recent bike count*
8.5 Percent of increase from last year’s count
53.5 Percent of increase from 2006, the first year of counts

* Bike counts are tallied from 60- to 90-minute observations at 33 locations

Source: SFMTA

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Will Reisman

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