The Tower Bridge Bike Share Preview has been operating in Sacramento central city and part of West Sacramento for two months now. I have been using it from time to time, and have some experiences to share.
These SoBi (Social Bicycles) bikes are a combination of hub bikes and park-anywhere bikes. If you return a bike to a hub, you pay only rental time. If you lock a bike up anywhere within the two geo-fenced boundary areas of Sacramento and West Sacramento, you pay an extra fee of $2. If you Park it outside the geofence, you pay $20. Except for one bike that ended up being stolen, I’ve never noticed a bike being left outside the geo-fence, but bikes are sometimes left outside hubs. This was common in the early days, but seems to have tapered off. It was earning quite a bit of credit on my bike share account returning these bikes to hub, which earns a credit of $1.50, but most days now there are no bikes outside of hubs in the morning, when I look, and return.
One of the cool things about the SoBi system is that temporary geo-fenced areas can be set up at other locations, for special events. The only instance of this that I’ve noticed is when one was set up at the Sunday Street at Broadway open streets event, but the capability is intriguing.
Of the six hub locations in Sacramento, four are located near drinking establishments. Most of the bike share use I observe visually and by watching patterns in the app map is bar-hopping. This is certainly a valid use of the bikes, and I’m glad these people are pedaling instead of driving.
In most bike share cities, a prominent service of bike share is as a transit extender, serving as a “first-mile/last-mile” access to and from transit. None of the hubs in Sacramento were located with that in mind. The greatest shortcoming is that there is no hub at Sacramento Valley Station, the Amtrak station. I have been riding a bike to the station at times, for trips where I’m not taking my own bike with me. Someone else has regularly been leaving a bike at the station on weekdays, presumably commuting on the Capitol Corridor train. The station is at least within the geo-fence, so the charge for doing this is only $2, but I do not understand why the station did not get a hub in the original layout. This is just a pilot, and presumably in the formal rollout in November or beyond, there will be hubs at transit locations. SACOG had said that part of the purpose for the preview was to gather information about patterns of use, but no information is being gathered about transit-related use because none of the hubs were located with that in mind. I asked SACOG about hub locations, and they said these had been determined by the cities, but when I asked Sacramento, they said the locations had been selected by SACOG.
So far as I know, SACOG has not provided any use data for the bike share system, at least it has not showed up on any of the meeting agendas. I look forward to seeing what the system has to say about patterns of use during the preview.
When I’m using the bikes, people often ask me questions about how it works. I tell them how easy it is to download the app and set up an account, and go, but most people seem to think this is too difficult and don’t end up doing it. Even young people who are used to downloading apps don’t seem to want to do it. Once your account is set up, you enter you member number and passcode on the GPS unit located on the bike, in order to unlock. I’m not sure how the system gets over that hump of few members. I have noticed that users of the Bay Area Ford GoBike are mostly using their Clipper Cards (equivalent to the ConnectCard) to unlock bikes, rather than using the application, though the charge is to the GoBike account rather than Clipper. Hopefully the SoBi system can be linked to ConnectCard for unlocking, and maybe even charging.
The Ford GoBike system has created a $5 per year low income membership (regularly $149) in order to encourage use by low income but bike dependent members of the community. It is partnering with the bicycle advocacy groups and low income bicyclist clubs such as the scraper bike folks, in order to sell the benefits of bike share to a wider audience. The locations of the stations (GoBike is a station-based system and the bikes are not designed to leave anywhere other than a station) have also been extended into several low income neighborhoods, though certainly not all of them. I do not know what plans the Sacramento system has for meeting the needs of low income users, but I look forward to finding out.