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Bay Area Agencies See Smart Bike Program as Last-Mile Transit Solution

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has approved $824,000 in funding for a program that will connect train riders in Sonoma and Marin counties with GPS-enabled bicycles.

(TNS) — A bicycle sharing program along the SMART train corridor is coming into focus as Marin and Sonoma counties work toward developing a plan.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission — the Bay Area’s transportation planning agency — approved $824,000 for the program for the two counties last November.

The project will provide a network of bikes at Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit stations and key destinations in each city along the rail corridor. The system would provide a way for commuters to get to the train and their jobs — the “last mile” of their journeys.

This week the Transportation Authority of Marin’s programming and projects executive committee approved an agreement with the Sonoma County Transportation Authority to work on developing the program in the coming months.

“The goals of the program include an objective to increase access to transit, promote active transportation, provide a direct first and last mile to SMART, and to give people another option for travel in Marin County,” said Scott McDonald, a TAM planner.

One version of a plan calls for 200 bikes to be distributed — 100 in Marin and 100 in Sonoma County. Novato, San Rafael, Larkspur, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Petaluma would have the bikes.

The program might employ GPS-enabled “smart-bikes” without traditional docking stations; the rider would not need to return the bike to a fixed location. The next user could then find a bike by using the Global Positioning System or GPS.

Santa Cruz officials announced last year they were launching a bike sharing program that could be similar to the program here. A fleet of 250 smart-bikes rent for $2 per 30 minutes of riding within city limits. Those bikes are designed with no removable parts, built-in U-locks, and a GPS tracker to make them virtually theft-proof. The GPS also allows users to locate available bicycles via an app.

To rent them, users download an app, fill out a liability waiver and contract and then provide a credit card to use for their account. Once a nearby bike is selected, the app provides a code to unlock the bike.

Because the MTC grant will not cover ongoing operating costs, a sponsor could be brought in to help defray costs for the Marin-Sonoma project, officials have said. Operating costs of roughly $150,000 to $360,000 are expected depending on a variety of factors including cost recovery, sponsorship support and bike share operator costs, according to the Marin agency.

But the agreement with MTC does allow leasing of a bike share system rather than purchasing of equipment that may become outdated as systems change. Operating expenses could be rolled in as part of the leasing agreement, which could save money, officials said.

MTC expects at least a one-year pilot period of operations. If the program is successful beyond a pilot year, MTC requires a three-year operation and funding plan for the grant.

The bike share program in Marin and Sonoma could help free up space on SMART trains, which have been inundated with bicycles. Instead of bringing their own bikes on board, people could use a shared bike at the stations, creating more space on trains.

Marin’s transportation authority originally looked at bike sharing in 2013, but didn’t take action. The technology has changed since then, making it more feasible.

“I’m excited about this,” said Eric Lucan, a Novato city councilman and member of TAM’s projects committee. “It’s good we waited given how quickly the industry is changing. We want to put in the right system that will work for Marin and Sonoma.”

©2018 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.