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Late to the Bike-Share Party, L.A. Could End Up a Leader

The proposed system will become part of the city’s public transportation system—a first in the U.S.

L.A. Metro / The Source

The second-biggest city in the United States is finally going to catch up with places like Denver and Minneapolis.

Those much smaller burgs—with winters!—were among the pioneers in getting bike-share systems up and running, launching in 2010 (Washington, D.C., also rolled out bike-share that year). But last week, after years of delays, the Los Angeles City Council formally agreed to a pilot fleet of 1,090 bikes at 65 stations on the streets of Downtown L.A. in 2016. Expansion to neighborhoods such as Hollywood and Venice is expected to follow.

As Yonah Freemark wrote last month at The Transport Politic, L.A. might be able to make up for being late to the party by being the first U.S. city to truly incorporate bike-share into its existing public transportation system. BTS/B-cycle, the vendor that will be operating L.A.’s bike-share, is reportedly working with the city’s transit authority, Metro, to create some kind of a unified fare structure. Freemark writes:

Though late, L.A.’s proposal could be a model for a new type of bike sharing. Not only will the system be operated by the county transit agency Metro (most systems are operated by city departments of transportation or independent groups), but it could also be tightly integrated into the transit system by allowing people to transfer directly from buses and trains to bikes—definitely a first.

The model L.A. has devised for its bike-share is different from any other in the U.S. Metro and the city are splitting the capital costs and sharing operations and maintenance costs, with Metro contributing 35 percent and L.A. taking responsibility for 65 percent. Naming rights belong to Metro, while the city retains advertising rights for the stations and bicycles.

So L.A.’s bike-share system will be incorporated into the existing public-transit and municipal bureaucracies from the get-go. That means that city officials have skin in the game when it comes to bike-share’s success.

Making transfers seamless for riders will be a core challenge, and it will be up to BTS/B-cycle to come up with fare cards that are compatible with the city’s existing TAP card for Metro. As Streetsblog LA points out, there are some potential stumbling blocks to a unified rider experience. Surrounding municipalities, including Santa Monica, are also launching bike-share—but with different providers and fare systems.

Another challenge will be the widespread perception that L.A.’s car-friendly streets are simply unsafe for people riding bicycles. But the city has just approved a new mobility plan that emphasizes increasing non-automobile transportation, and it includes a call for 300 miles of protected bike lanes to be built over the next 20 years.

A robust bike-share system, linked to an increasingly viable public transit system, will only strengthen the constituency for the kinds of infrastructure and enforcement changes that need to happen if Los Angeles is going to get serious about moving away from utter car dependence.

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear
    Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.