Everything You Need to Know About Bike Share

Bike share is finally here, and it’s been a long time coming.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s regional bike share program launched with a Downtown Los Angeles leg on Thursday, July 7. There are 65 kiosks with more than 1,000 bikes planned in Downtown, spread across neighborhoods including the Arts District, El Pueblo and the Historic Core.

Here’s everything you need to know about bike share.

Getting Started: The process starts either at home or at the kiosks. Frequent riders can register their TAP card online and buy a monthly pass or an annual “flex” pass. More casual riders can walk up to a kiosk and load a TAP card using a credit card. Thirty-minute rides are $3.50.

For the month of July, anyone who wants to try bike share must buy a pass: The $20 monthly option offers unlimited 30-minute rides, though if you exceed that time limit, you’ll be hit with an additional $1.75 fee. The $40 “flex” annual pass makes every 30-minute ride $1.75.

Requiring a pass in July is annoying for anyone who spots a bike share rack and just wants a ride, but on the flip side, Metro is offering half-off on all 30-minute rides in August and September.

Kiosk Basics: The kiosk system is simple: Go to a locked bike, press a button near the front tire to activate the module, and swipe your TAP card to unlock the ride. When you’re done, pedal to the nearest kiosk, find an open space, and firmly insert the front wheel into the slot. A green light will flash when it’s secured.

Metro is urging users to triple-check that the bike is locked. If no slot is available, the kiosk screen will display locations of nearby kiosks. Riders will have a 15-minute buffer to get there.

Theft and Loss: Why is it so important to check that you locked the bike back in? Because lost or stolen bikes are charged to the user. And it’s not cheap: Metro will charge full cost, more than $1,000, for a disappeared bike.

The kiosks, when used correctly, secure the bikes in ways that make them theoretically impossible to steal. In addition to the latching locks, every bike and kiosk is built by system operator BTS using proprietary bolts that are specific to L.A.’s program.

Metro strongly discourages anyone stepping away from their bike to, for instance, grab a cup of coffee or dart into the office. In fact, part of the reason why Metro designed the system for 30-minute rides is so that people use the bikes simply to get from point A to B. Much of the activity is built on the “first-mile/last-mile” premise, with the goal of getting people to use the bikes as a complement to mass transit and leave the car at home. It’s bike share, not bike rental.

Where to Go: The bike share website (bikeshare.metro.net) features a fully interactive map of all the stations, with live updates on the number of bikes available at each kiosk. A handy smartphone app displays the same info, connects you to customer service, allows you to buy passes, and more.

A number of stations are still being installed, but in general, the central and western portions of Downtown within the freeway ring have the majority of kiosks. The Fashion and Industrial districts are largely ignored, with San Pedro and Alameda streets forming an almost perfect wedge-like buffer zone of zero bike share stations (at least until you head north to Third Street).

Despite that, it’s easy to ride from USC up to Chinatown, or from City West to the L.A. River.

Past and Future: Los Angeles’ efforts to create a bike share system has been full of stops and starts. In 2012, then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared the city would build a $16 million bike share system with Irvine-based operator Bike Nation.

That fell apart when a review of city contracts killed the proposed system’s revenue generator: ads on the kiosks. An existing contract with JCDecaux/Outfront (formerly CBS Outdoor), valid through 2021, means nobody else — not even Metro — can generate revenue from advertising on “street furniture” like bus stops and bike share stations.

Metro announced a county-wide program in 2014, and the agency plans to roll out bike share in Pasadena next, although a launch date has not been announced. In the meantime, Metro is looking for a sponsor to brand every bike (that’s bikes, not kiosks) with ads, as Santa Monica did on its system with Hulu.

More information on bike share is at bikeshare.metro.net.

eddie@downtownnews.com