DTLA - It’s been nearly two years since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation kicked off a long-awaited bike-share program in Downtown Los Angeles. The $11 million initiative, with 65 kiosks and a total of 700 bicycles in the Central City, was intended to function as a pilot project for a regional system.
Metro has since spread bike share to other communities, launching in Venice, Pasadena and the Port of Los Angeles last year. Now another rollout is being readied, and with its proximity to Downtown, it could prove to be a significant step in the effort to have people leave their car in the garage and instead take a two-wheeler to work.
On April 24, the City Council’s Transportation Committee approved an LADOT recommendation to expand bike share into the neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Westlake, Koreatown and Pico-Union. A total of 700 bikes would arrive in an effort to boost connectivity between those neighborhoods and Downtown, according to LADOT Chief Sustainability Officer Marcel Porras.
There would also be a southern expansion, with 22 stations in the vicinity of the University of Southern California and the Expo Line. The section would have an additional 300 bikes.
“The contiguous expansion is important to increasing ridership,” Porras said. He also pointed to the system’s integration into concurrent street improvements, adding, “The expansion to USC is going to be further supported by the opening of the MyFigueroa project, which creates protected bike lines and other facilities.”
The system would also expand in Venice and Culver City.
The wider rollout comes as system operators have analyzed usage data, and tried several different programs to boost activity. Since launching in Downtown and Venice in July 2016, there have been 395,865 total bike rides, 12,962 passes sold and more than 1.1 million miles traveled, according to Metro. The agency also reports that 1,086,539 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions have been offset thanks to bike share riders.
In Downtown, each bike has been used .74 times per day, below the goal of one ride per day, according to Metro. In Venice the average is 1.2 rides per day. Metro attributes the higher rate in Venice to the community’s infrastructure and beachside location.
Metro and LADOT are working not only to expand the program, but to update the business model. A proposal to revise current fares will head to the Metro board this month, according to agency Transportation Planning Manager Jenny Cristales-Cevallos. The plan calls for lowering fares for some users.
The expansion, which requires the approval of the full City Council, will take place in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Overall, the operators classify bike share’s launch as a success, but with plenty of room to grow.
“As a region, it’s meeting the expectations we have placed, but we want to increase ridership,” Cristelas-Cevallos said.
The proposed expansions are based in part on user feedback, Porras said. He added that a number of people have said they are looking for alternatives for commuting in and out of Downtown.
“We have one station in Echo Park right now that’s well utilized despite being an outlier,” Porras said.
Bike Share was launched not with the goal of letting people rent bikes for long, casual rides, but rather as part of the effort to solve the so-called “first mile, last mile” problem. It seeks to help mass transit users get from their final stop — say, Union Station or a subway stop — to their job or other destination. Putting bicycles in busy transit areas could prompt people to leave their car at home and combine a bus or train ride with a quick trip on a two-wheeler. They also envisioned Bike Share as an option for trips within neighborhoods such as Downtown. Users can check a bike out at one location and return it to any kiosk.
Angelenos are using the system for their commutes, but ridership in Downtown is not limited to weekday rush hours, according to Metro’s data. People are also on the bikes during the weekend, Cristales-Cevallos said.
Bike share has drawn some complaints for its pricing structure. A ride is $3.50 for 30 minutes or less, with another $3.50 tacked on for every additional half hour. Metro offers a $20 monthly pass where the first 30 minutes are free and each additional half hour is $1.75. A $40 annual flex pass has rides costing $1.75 per 30 minutes.
That could change for some users. Specific proposed rates have not been disclosed, but Metro is looking at discounted monthly fees for students, seniors and low-income individuals.
Metro has also experimented with new options and tweaks. In September, it launched an online deal for a $7 day pass.
Additionally, Metro is working to better integrate the bike share program with Metro’s TAP card system, said Cristales-Cevallos, so users can have a single account for both bikes and rail.
Another aim is to expand beyond individual use and work with businesses. Metro’s “Bike Share for Business” deal has three rate structures; in each case there’s a $12 cost per person (with a minimum of five employees), and the business either pays the entire price, 75% or 50%, with workers making up the rest. Memberships include unlimited 30-minute rides. After that period users pay $1.75 for each 30 minutes.
Downtown businesses that have signed on include Anschutz Entertainment Group, McConnell’s Ice Cream and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, according to Cristelas-Cevallos.
Bike share’s busiest areas in Downtown are the Financial District, Union Station and the Arts District. Cristales-Cevallos said in the latter case, the bikes have caught on in part because of the otherwise limited public transit options.
The busiest Downtown bike hub is at Seventh and Flower streets, according to Porras, with 15,000 total rides. That’s followed by Seventh Street and Grand Avenue, and Union Station, both of which have recorded 12,000 rides.
Of the nearly 400,000 system-wide rides so far, there have been only five accidents, with no serious injuries, said Porras. Still, Cristales-Cevallos noted that safety is a top concern in a car-chocked community, and there are calls for more bike lanes and better turn signals.
“One of the key challenges that we’re trying to work hard to address with our partner cities is to make sure they’re moving forward with plans to build bike infrastructure,” Cristales-Cevallos said.
Bike share accessibility is a major issue for the nonprofit advocacy group the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Organization Executive Director Erik Jansen welcomed the planned expansion, but said that bike share must remain equitable and costs should stay low. Community engagement and partnerships are particularly needed, Jansen said in a statement to Los Angeles Downtown News.
“In addition, the city and county need to robustly invest in the physical infrastructure to make streets safer for all road users, especially those walking and biking,” Jansen said. “This is particularly important as bike share expands into communities of color that have faced historic disinvestment in transportation infrastructure, particularly active transportation infrastructure.”
Metro and LADOT plan to try out new GPS technology with the bikes being purchased for the expansion. Currently the only data the organizations track is from the bike kiosks. Porras said the new bikes will provide LADOT with information on peak usage times, the busiest routes and other topics.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2018