Los Angeles bike share has been a long time coming and it's just getting started, but it has finally arrived and is rapidly expanding. The first bike share program in the City of Los Angeles is Metro Los Angeles Bike Share program, launched in Downtown LA in July 2016 to members and as of August 1, 2016, for walk-up riders.
The Downtown LA program joins bike share programs already operating in Santa Monica, Long Beach and Beverly Hills, and another one is coming to West Hollywood at the end of August 2016.
The Metro Bike Share program is operated by Philadelphia-based Bicycle Transit Systems (BTS), while the rest are operated by Social Bicycles (SoBi).
One of the primary goals of LA's bike share programs is to encourage more people to use public transportation by providing another option for getting from the Metro or bus stop to your final destination. For this reason, ride share hubs are often located near Metro stations and major commercial areas. It improves your options if you're visiting LA without a car.
All LA bike-share bikes are adult bikes and are only available for riders 16 and up. A helmet is required for those under 18 and recommended for everyone. There are no helmet rentals available at bike share locations.
All LA area bike-share programs currently require a credit card to use. The credit card doesn't need to be present if it has been set up in the respective app or associated with an account linked to a TAP card.
So a parent could set up a bike share account for a student over 16 without giving him or her a credit card, for example, as long as the rider has either the smartphone app, a TAP Card, or in some cases, the membership number.
Downtown LA Metro Bike Share
Metro Bike Share in Downtown Los Angeles has 1000 bicycles at 65 bike stations.
There are almost twice as many bike docks as there are bikes to make it easier to find a parking spot for your bike when you're finished riding, but there are no options for alternate pick up if there's no dock near your destination. You must return the bike to an official dock. The smartphone app will tell you where there are available docks. If you show up at a station with no free docks, you can tap the screen on the kiosk to get 15 minutes added to your ride at no charge so you can find another station to leave the bike.
To use a bike, you can either sign up online for a monthly or annual pass, which you can store on a Metro TAP card or, as of August 1, 2016, you can rent a bike by the hour at any station with a credit card. Tap the round gray button to wake up the bike to begin your transaction. There is currently no option for renting a bike without a credit card. The single ride rate is $3.50 per 30 minutes with a 30 minute minimum. There is a plan to eventually allow you to use stored cash value from your TAP card, but that is not yet in place.
To return a bike, you just wheel it into the dock and wait for the three beeps to tell you it's been registered as returned.
Santa Monica Breeze Bike Share
Santa Monica Breeze Bike Share, operated by Social Bicycles (SoBi), was the first bike share porgram in LA County.
They started with 500 bright green bikes spread across 75 hubs in Santa Monica and 5 hubs in Venice, adding another 5 hubs in each area to meet demand. SoBi bikes have the transaction panel on the bike itself, not the dock. You can use a credit card, a registered Metro TAP card loaded with a pass, or an access code from the smartphone app where you've registered your credit card to rent a bike.
Per-ride usage for Santa Monica Breeze bikes is billed by the minute, with no minimum, so if you only need 10 minutes to ride down to the store where there's a hub, and 10 minutes back on another bike, you pay 20 minutes. If there's no hub at the store and you put the bike on hold for 7 minutes while you grab what you need, you pay 27 minutes prorated at the hourly rate. So even though the single ride hourly rate of $7 is a lot more than a bus ride, if it's a short trip, it may be more direct and convenient – not to mention more fun and better exercise – to take a Breeze bike if there's a hub near you.
You can use the SoBi app to reserve a bike in advance or to see which hubs currently have open bike parking spaces. However, you can't reserve a parking space in a hub. Because the transaction unit is on the bike and not the rack, if a hub is full, you can leave the bike at any public bike rack within 100 feet for no extra charge, or at any other bike rack in the network for a small fee. There's a $20 or more return fee if you leave it outside the Breeze network, so you can bike all the way to Hollywood and leave the bike, as long as you're willing to pay the pickup fee. The bike's GPS system lets them know where it is. Once you've locked the bike with the bar provided, check for a return confirmation message on the screen.
If you plan to ride around all day, want to take the whole family, or need to rent helmets, a traditional bike rental in Santa Monica or Venice may be a better option.
Beverly Hills Bike Share
Beverly Hills Bike Share has the same fluorescent green bikes and plan as Santa Monica, including offering single ride trips by the minute. They only have 50 bikes in 10 hubs, which makes sense because Beverly Hills is not really a bike-friendly area, especially around Wilshire, Robertson and Santa Monica Boulevard.
West Hollywood Bike Share
West Hollywood is planning to launch 150 of the same green "smart-bikes" as Santa Monica and Beverly Hills in 20 hubs by August 30, 2016. Full details to be announced.
Long Beach Bike Share
The Long Beach Bike Share program is also part of the Social Bicycles network – although they opted for sky blue bikes instead of bright green like the other three. They started in March 2016 with 100 bikes in 10 hubs and will expand to 500 bikes. It currently only serves the area between Downtown and Belmont Shore/Naples along the coast, with one stray hub at Cal State Long Beach, but new hubs are being added weekly.
Unlike the other SoBi cities, Long Beach does not have an annual pass option. It has two monthly passes with 60 or 90-minutes per day included; a $21 prepaid option with 4 hours for the price of three; or a pay-as-you-go rate for $7 per hour with a 1-hour minimum, prorated at 12 cents per minute after one hour. $7 per hour is less than the $10 and up hourly rate of beach bike rental shops, and $21 for 4 hours is less than the $25 day rate at the beach, but traditional rental shops are a better option if you have kids under 16 or need helmets.
All the SoBi programs all share the same smartphone app, so you can easily access multiple systems, although your membership benefits are only available in your home system. It's handy if you're based in Santa Monica and happen to be spending a day in Long Beach – or Phoenix or Orlando. You still have to pay the single ride rate, but it's charged to your existing account.
Pay attention to la.streetsblog.org for the latest information on bike-friendly LA developments and other livable streets issues.