Several years ago, planners at the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) and the Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) began looking at ways to expand mobility options in their counties and decided to collaborate on bringing a bike share program, a phenomenon already popular in urban areas, to the suburbs.
“We wanted to link to the SMART train corridor, and we considered which options might bridge the gap between what we call the first and last mile of a trip,” says Scott McDonald, senior transportation planner at TAM. “It will be great for people who live or work beyond walking distance to transit and could easily connect with it by way of bike share.”
Judy Arnold, chairperson at TAM, adds, “We are committed to trying new methods of connecting residents and commuters to transit and to jobs, and this program will build on the options today.”
The two counties applied for and won an $826,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to create a three-year pilot program that would place hubs containing about 12 bikes each near SMART stations in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma, Novato, San Rafael and Larkspur. In all, 300 electric-assist bikes will be deployed, about 150 in Marin and 150 in Sonoma. As planning on station locations continues this summer, most city councils in those cities have already approved the program, while presentations are being prepared for the others now.
McDonald says the program is intended for local residents and the workforce, but he envisions that some visitors to Marin will want to utilize it, too, especially at the connection near the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. He also says it could be a good midday option for workers who left the car at home and want to run an errand or grab lunch.
“They are nice-looking bikes, they have some cool features like really solid rubber tires and a basket. I think a lot of people will enjoy them,” McDonald says, adding that electric-assist bikes were chosen in part to help riders navigate Marin’s hilly topography. “There’s definitely some excitement around that aspect of it.”
After a thorough review of proposals, the agencies chose a company out of Charleston, South Carolina, called Gotcha that would provide bike and station maintenance, move bikes between stations when necessary and provide the bikes themselves. “Overall, we were just really impressed with the device and the team behind it,” McDonald says. Early this year that company was acquired by Bolt Mobility, co-founded by Olympic athlete Usain Bolt, but the technology and team are essentially the same.
The bikes will all be GPS enabled and rentable through an app that will tell users exactly how many bikes are at each station. The system will be connected to the regional Clipper Card, which can be used on Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit and can also activate a rental, making the system available to those without smartphones. There will be pay-as-you-go or monthly subscription options and discounts for students 18 and up, veterans and those on government assistance.
McDonald says the partnership with SCTA, TAM and other local governments has been highly positive and that he expects planning for the pilot to be completed by late 2021, after which the system should be available for use. “We’re excited about the project — we’ve been working on it for a while and we’re looking forward to delivering it to the public,” McDonald says.