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One of my favorite new products is Bay Area Bike Share. If you’ve spent any time along Market Street in San Francisco or around Soma in the last few months, you’ve probably noticed fleets of turquoise bikes around. In total there are 700 bikes and 70 stations across SF, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose. The system aims to offer an “affordable option for quick trips around the city.” The program is funded with $7 million provided by an assortment of government agencies, and operated by Alta Bicycle Share, which runs programs in other cities including New York, Chicago and Boston.

How It Works

The way it works is that you take a bike from one of the stations and you have 30 minutes to drop the bike off at any station. If you’re an annual member, you’ll get a key that releases the bike from the station. Within each city, going station to station shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes maximum, so 30 minutes is plenty of time to get where you’re going. But what if you want to go for a long ride? Generally that’s not the purpose of the bike share, and if that’s what you are looking to do, bike rental places are encouraged instead.

The bikes themselves are sturdy and easy to use. The seats can be raised and lowered easily before you hop on. There are seven different gears to choose from, and a chain guard eliminats the need to do the bikers’ pant roll, making it easy to go to and from work. Be careful with the goods–$1,200 replacement fee.

Pricing

With three separate plans, pricing is simple. You can access the system for 24 hours at $9, 3 days for $22, or for an entire year for only $88—slightly more than the cost of a monthly Muni pass. If you live or work anywhere near the stations, joining for the year is a no brainer. It doesn’t take that many forgone taxi rides for trips that were just too far to walk to justify the cost of an annual membership.

Limitations

The stations are located primarily around key public transportation hubs—Caltrain and BART stations. This helps maximize utility for commuters, one of the primary objectives of the program. In SF, if you don’t spend much time in Soma of the Financial District, the system won’t be that useful. It would be great to see a few stations in the Mission. (Although I think it might be a requirement that you have your own bike to live there.)

Opportunities

At only $88 annually, it’s really hard to complain about the current offering as is, but I see a couple opportunities to increase use at minimal cost. The first is modifying the corporate program to target large buildings, particularly in Soma. Communities like Avalon, the Beacon, Infiniti and the many others in Soma are natural marketing hubs located just steps away from the stations. Tapping these communities with a small discount similar to what is offered to corporations would be a great way to reach people that would get the most value.

Another cool benefit for annual members would be to set up reciprocity programs with other cities also part of Alta’s network. Now I’m assuming that the infrastructure is the same and that it would simply be a matter of giving a fob access to multiple cities. I wouldn’t expect that there would be a ton of cross-city use, but it would be a nice option to encourage pollution free transportation as members travel around the country.

In summary: if you regularly pass by a Bay Area Bike share station, get an annual membership. You’ll find yourself getting some unexpected exercise realize that there are a lot more opportunities to use the system then you might initially think.