On-demand, two-wheel transportation is no longer exclusively a Google Inc. employee perk. Now all Mountain View residents and visitors have ready access to a two-wheeled steed, thanks to a bike-share pilot program the city launched last week.
“It just gives them another option to hop on a bike without them having to worry about bringing their own bike along or making other arrangements,” said Dawn Cameron, Mountain View assistant public works director.
Cameron’s department granted permits to two private rental companies, ofo and LimeBike, and each is rolling out 400 bicycles available for trips throughout town. As the bikes are dockless and need not be secured at designated racks, riders can hire and ultimately leave them nearly anywhere in the city. Lime’s electric-assist bikes cost $1 to unlock plus 15 cents per minute, while ofo is offering traditional pedal bikes for $1 per hour. The companies’ apps include maps revealing where the GPS-enabled units are located, along with functionality – riders may pay for their trips via credit card or digital wallet services. Scanning a Quick Response code affixed to the frame opens the locking mechanism affixed to the rear wheel.
The pilot program is meant to support the city’s goals of embracing sustainable living, reducing traffic and parking congestion, and assisting commuters who require transportation to or from their daily train, bus or shuttle ride, according to the city’s website.
“The hope is that because these are free-floating bikes that can be parked wherever there’s room throughout the city, that over time, people will kind of say, ‘Oh, I just need to make a quick trip to here. It’s only a mile away. Oh, let me just jump on the bike. Because there’s one right here,’” Cameron said.
Customers are expected to park their rentals outside the public right-of-way (restricted areas are shown in red on the app maps), but the companies are responsible for relocating bikes left in violation.
A new type of bike share
This isn’t the city’s first (bike) rodeo. Mountain View was initially part of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Bay Area Bike Share program thanks to grant funding, but the agency dropped the city due to low ridership when it reworked the program in 2016, Cameron said.
“Because you could only check them out and return them to a dock, it really limited who could use the bikes; you couldn’t just take them anywhere in the city,” she said. “And the other problem was there were so few bikes that you lacked the density of getting enough bikes throughout the city that there was one conveniently available when you needed it.”
To continue participating in the Bay Area Bike Share program, Mountain View would need to invest approximately $1 million and spend between $100,000 and $200,000 annually in operating costs, sums the city council balked at, according to Cameron. Instead, her team researched other options and ultimately recommended following Seattle’s example: a dockless system operating on a private marketplace model that doesn’t require financial investment from the city. The council approved.
Lime and ofo began staging their fleets around town May 8, and a handful of telltale green and yellow, and yellow and black bikes could be spotted among the throng of cyclists pedaling near the Downtown Transit Center Thursday, the local Bike to Work Day.
Jiaxi Xu paused Thursday morning to snap a photo of the bikes neatly lined up in Centennial Plaza. He said he hopes the piling up of abandoned rentals doesn’t become a public nuisance like it sometimes does in Beijing, where he’s from. But he was excited about the idea of using the services to commute from his Mountain View abode to the transit center, where he takes a bus to Foothill College.
“Generally, it really makes at least my life easier, because I don’t have a car and with these bikes I can ride it basically to anywhere I want,” Xu said. “And riding my own bike, I must take the same one back and worry about whether I may have lost it or something. So that’s the good side.”