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The future of bike share in LA

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Where will it go next, and will people actually use it?

Over the past year, Metro’s burgeoning bike-share system has put bikes on the ground in four Southern California neighborhoods. Starting with an initial rollout in Downtown Los Angeles in July 2016, Metro’s bike-share program has since come to Pasadena, the waterfront in San Pedro and Wilmington, and, most recently, Venice.

But this is only the beginning. Over the next few years, Metro intends to blanket the city with bike share, expanding its system to more than a dozen neighborhoods, from Mid-City to Boyle Heights, the agency’s Regional Bike Share Implementation Plan, adopted in 2015, shows.

Below, we explore what’s happening now with Metro’s bike-share and its possible future. Scroll on:

Are people actually riding the bikes already here?

To date, Metro Bike Share has logged more than 240,000 trips since its 2016 launch, adding up to a bit more than 600,000 total miles traveled. Most of these trips have taken place around Downtown, given that the subsequent neighborhood expansions only opened in the past couple months.

While 240,000 trips in just about a year might seem like a lot, Metro officials are open about how LA’s system is only moderately used.

For now, Metro Bike Share averages about one ride per bike per day. Metro wants to double this number by the end of summer to a systemwide average of two rides per bike daily. As a comparison, New York City’s Citi Bike system regularly averages about six rides per bike per day.

Los Angeles, of course, is not New York. Where New York has spent more than a decade aggressively building high grade cycling infrastructure, Los Angeles has only assembled its first protected and signaled bike lane in the past year.

Riding a bike in Los Angeles is often viewed as a fringe activity rather than a viable mode of transportation. But it's exactly this norm that Metro wants to change as it expands bike share across LA.

The visibility of cycling as a viable mode of transportation increases as more people take to the streets on bikes (including on bike share bikes), signaling to others that they could maybe ride a (Metro) bike instead of driving or using a ride-hailing app.

Where is it headed next—and when?

Together, the four areas where Metro has already placed its bike share stations represent a completion of the first and second pilot phases of Metro’s long term five phase bike share plan. So far, the agency maintains about 1,400 bicycles at about 125 stations.

In the next phases of its plan, the agency aimsto scatter more than 4,000 additional bicycles across at least a dozen neighborhoods around greater Los Angeles.

Aside from neighborhoods where bike share already exists, Metro’s plan outlines expansion to Westlake, University Park, Koreatown, Hollywood, West Hollywood, North Hollywood, East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Huntington Park, Mid-City and Marina Del Rey. Metro has also expressed interest in expanding bike share to the San Gabriel Valley, Burbank, Glendale, Culver City, and Palms.

Metro is studying how exactly it will expand bike share to these neighborhoods. But the remaining three phases of system expansion are tentatively planned to occur over each of the next three years: the third phase will bring Metro Bike Share to Central LA neighborhoods, the fourth phase will add in Hollywood and West Hollywood, and the fifth phase will start filling in other dense neighborhoods around the region.

Of course, the plan can always change. For example, though the expansion to Venice was originally proposed as a part of Phase V, Metro chose to move it up to the Phase 2 pilot. Similarly, the San Pedro and Wilmington waterfront installation was not outlined anywhere in the original plan.

Ultimately, by building out its bike-share program, the agency aspires to give Angelenos another dependable and car-free option for getting around their neighborhoods and LA at large. What Los Angeles lacks in dedicated cycling infrastructure, it makes up for with exceptional weather conducive to year-round cycling, relatively flat riding conditions, and many residential and low traffic streets that could be transformed into safe, low-stress cycling corridors.

It’s pricey to ride

Metro’s bike share fare structure can be a little confusing at first, given it is set up differently than the agency’s other transit options.

Without any pass, a single 30-minute or less bike rental costs $3.50. Each half-hour block of time after the first 30 minute period is another $3.50. This is twice the cost of a standard one-way fare across Metro’s transit system, which is just $1.75.

But Metro wants to coax users into being regular users of its bike-share system. With the $20 monthly pass, all trips 30 minutes or less are free. Trips that last more than 30 minutes cost $1.75 for each extra half-hour. With the $40 annual “Flex” pass, all rides under 30 minutes cost $1.75, with another $1.75 incurred for each extra half-hour.

Payment for single rides can be made with a debit or credit card at any Metro Bike Share station. The monthly and annual passes are linked to your TAP card, and can be purchased online from Metro. With a pass loaded onto a TAP card, riders need only hold their card to bike share docking station to release a bike.

Unlike Metro buses and rail, however, Metro Bike Share does not work with cash. On that note…

Does Metro Bike Share account for equity in its plans?

Bike sharing systems like Metro’s are not without their controversy, particularly as they relate to gentrification and urban displacement. Unlike in other cities, like the Bay Area and Baltimore, residents here aren't vandalizing or stealing bikes in protest. But LA's system still introduces big questions about equity.

As a part of an effort to study the equity effects of bike share in Downtown LA, transportation advocates from Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM) spent several months interviewing business owners, workers, residents, and others in Downtown about their perception of Metro’s bike-share system.

Maria Sipin, co-chair of MCM’s advisory board, tells Curbed that many people they spoke with were simply unsure what Metro Bike Share’s purpose was, and who it was for.

“People don’t believe that bike share is meant to be a public good; they suspect that bike share is largely for the use of more affluent individuals and tourists to generate income, and it's upsetting for many who feel that there are housing, transportation, and economic issues that demand greater attention than these mysterious and expensive bicycles,” Sipin says. “People living or working in areas where bike share is installed may not feel like they had a chance to share their input or were not informed at any point.”

The fact that Metro Bike Share relies on card payment and is more expensive than farther reaching public transportation means poorer residents may feel like the system isn’t for them.

Much of this comes back to on-the-ground outreach and engagement before a bike-share system is introduced. Sipin describes how, in many instances, people simply were surprised at the appearance of the bike share stations around Downtown. She argues that this could be mitigated in future expansions with more comprehensive outreach and engagement beforehand.

Each future Bike Share station will inevitably have a unique effect on the individual blocks they are placed on, effects that thorough outreach and engagement could likely anticipate.