CA: Marin, Sonoma reset bike-sharing program rollout

Jan. 3, 2024
A Marin and Sonoma county bicycle-sharing program that failed to launch during the pandemic is being rebooted for a proposed summer rollout.

Dec. 31—A Marin and Sonoma county bicycle-sharing program that failed to launch during the pandemic is being rebooted for a proposed summer rollout.

Transportation planners said the two-year pilot program will position 300 electric bicycles along the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line across the two counties. Strategy meetings to plan the program introduction are set to begin next month.

A project update was presented to the Transportation Authority of Marin at its Dec. 14 meeting.

"This is really a pilot program to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of bike-share in the suburban context," said Scott McDonald, a planner at the Transportation Authority of Marin.

The project is being funded by a $826,000 grant issued by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's transportation planning agency. Planners will likely have to determine within the first year of the program if they want to extend the bike share beyond the pilot period, which is due to expire in 2027.

"If we wanted to extend it beyond that grant-funded period, we might have to come up with our own goals and figure out what warranted continuing it," McDonald said.

The grant came to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority in 2018. TAM is jointly overseeing the program with the Sonoma agency.

The Sonoma agency had initially approved a three-year pilot contract with Bolt Mobility to position the bikes in seven cities along the SMART corridor. The program was set for a 2022 launch, but Bolt Mobility shut down because of the pandemic.

Transportation planners sought a new bike-share operator. This month, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority hired Drop Mobility to be the bike-share service operator.

Drop Mobility is responsible for maintaining the bike-share system, including rotating and servicing bikes, operating a warehouse and call center, and developing the program with Marin cities, towns and transit agencies. The company will provide a smartphone app for users, a website and data reporting.

Amber Wason, a vice president at Drop Mobility, said her staff will collaborate with the local leaders to create a brand specific to the two counties.

"We love working alongside transit, and we love tying different communities together for a regional system," Wason said.

The January stakeholder meetings will involve deciding where to place about 75 bike parking hubs. Wason said they could be positioned at transit stations and bike rack areas along the rail line, but her staff will work with the local leaders to map out the best spots.

After those strategy meetings, planners will begin branding, app and web development and local hiring in the spring in time for a June launch, Wason said.

The bikes will likely be phased in, rather than all deployed at once, Wason said.

Chance Cutrano, the mayor of Fairfax and a TAM board member, said he wanted to know what incentives or penalties could be established to increase the chances that users will return bikes to the parking hubs, rather than leaving them in undesired locations.

"I think that's one of the concerns in most communities we hear about deploying these assets, and then they're hanging out in problematic spots, they're blocking sidewalks, or things like that," Cutrano said.

Wason said any penalty or incentive could be discussed at the stakeholder meeting next month.

"The culture of the community can decide how strict or lenient to be," Wason said.

Warren Wells of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition said his organization supports the bike shares and congratulated staff for resetting the program.

"Really looking forward to working with staff and the vendor to make this a success," Wells said.

Patrick Seidler, president of WTB-TAM, a bicycling advocacy group, agreed.

"I really think it's going to take some of the transit system to another level, so we're really looking forward to participating in the process," he said.

Seidler said he sees future opportunity to supplement the bike-share program with private vendors, and also envisions the Civic Center SMART station as a potential site for a major hub.

Melanie Bagby, a member of the Cloverdale City Council and the board governing SMART, said she's excited to see the bike-share program roll out in conjunction with the rail agency's free fare for youths and seniors program that is set to launch in April. The one-year free fare program was approved last week.

"The two are going to very much complement each other," Bagby said.

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