Three months after it pedaled to a long-awaited start, the regional Bay Area Bike Share program is on a roll and planners are already working to make it bigger.
People took more than 80,000 rides in the system's first three months, traveling more than 178,000 miles on the bike sharing system's 700 sturdy bicycles, which are scattered among five cities: San Francisco, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose.
Officials from the Bay Area Air Quality District, which is funding and overseeing the program, consider it a success.
"We're very pleased with it," said Ralph Borrmann, an air district spokesman. "It's comparable to how programs in other large cities across the country have done at this point."
But some critics say it has struggled to a start and has failed to become as visible or as talked about as similar programs in other cities, such as New York or Chicago, which have many more bikes and stations but are confined to a single city.
Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, described Bay Area Bike Share as a success but said the program needs to expand both in the areas it already serves by adding more bikes and more stations, as well as growing outward into new neighborhoods.
"It's good now," she said, "but the system is not yet great because of the limited coverage."
That will change slightly in 2014, perhaps as soon as spring, although no dates have been set. Another 300 bikes and 30 stations will be added to the system, with 150 at 15 stations in San Francisco. Bay Area Bike Share will roll into the Mission District, Upper Market, Hayes Valley, Duboce Triangle and the Castro District, and possibly Mission Bay, said Paul Rose, a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
Bay Area Bike Share made its debut Aug. 29, after years of planning. The system features sturdy bikes, whose color has been variously described as mint green, seafoam green or baby blue, situated at 70 stations in the five cities. Half the bikes — that's 350 — are based in San Francisco, mainly in the Financial District, South of Market and Civic Center areas. The rest are spread among the other cities, all close to the Caltrain rails.
The idea behind bike sharing is to encourage people, whether residents or visitors, to use the bikes to take short trips, often connecting transit and workplaces. Users purchase passes, ranging from one day to one year, that allow them to take unlimited rides of 30 minutes or less.
Critics have said the initial system is too small, especially in San Francisco, that it covers too few neighborhoods and doesn't feature enough stations for riders to pick up and drop off bikes conveniently.
The coming expansion should help change that, said Shahum, who added that bike riders say the system needs to move outward from the downtown core. Rose said analyses and surveys identified the Mission and Upper Market as the areas most likely to attract new riders.
"It's the next ring out," said Shahum, "and it's really going to boost the number of people using bike sharing."
But for bike sharing to really take off, she said, San Francisco needs to have about 3,000 bikes.
"We really want to see the city grow the system faster than it is," she said. "We're worried that there's no plan to get to 3,000 bikes."
Borrmann said that in addition to adding bikes in 2014, the air district also plans to seek corporate sponsors who might help expand the system as in other cities, such as New York, whose 6,000-bike network is known as Citi Bike and bears the logo of financial giant Citigroup.
"Something similar may happen here," he said, "but this is a different program with five cities, so there may be a different approach."
San Jose distant 2nd
As expected, most of the bike rides are taking place in San Francisco, said Borrmann, though he could not provide percentages. San Jose is a distant second followed by Mountain View, Palo Alto and Redwood City.