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Southern California bike sharing programs may not work together

A row of Citibikes, the bike sharing program in New York City. Los Angeles has plans to roll out a bike sharing program in 2016.
Greg Peverill-Conti via Flickr
A row of Citibikes, the bike sharing program in New York City. Los Angeles has plans to roll out a bike sharing program in 2016.

As Los Angeles gets ready to join a growing list of cities to offer bike share - which allows people to check out a bike, ride it elsewhere and drop it off - concerns are cropping up over compatibility issues with pre-existing systems.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Agency will choose a vendor this month to operate its bike share program in Los Angeles county. It wants to place about a 1,000 bikes at 60 different stations throughout Downtown L.A., then possibly expand to other parts of the county after two years.

Santa Monica and Long Beach have already moved to put in their own bike share systems, but they're using a different operator than the one Metro is considering.

"One of the key aspects of a successful bike share system is that it be a seamless experience for the customer," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a former Santa Monica City Councilman who has convened several meetings to try to coordinate a regional bike sharing program among the various cities in his district and Metro.

He's concerned the system being contemplated by Metro will be incompatible with the ones in Santa Monica and Long Beach, making easy travel among different jurisdictions impossible.

The biggest issue is the difference in the way the bikes are checked out and returned - the Santa Monica system attaches the software and check-out equipment to the bike, the contractor Metro is looking at would keep the equipment in a stationary dock.

"That's going to lead to a very poor customer experience in my view," said Bloom.

So in a theoretical future, a rider who wants to check out a bike in the Venice neighborhood and ride it a few miles in Santa Monica wouldn't be able to check it back in at the docking stations there.

Bloom said he's still in talks with Metro to settle on a plan for the county-wide bike share that will work in tandem with city plans like Santa Monica's.

Metro officials said they can't comment on those concerns because they're in the middle of the bidding process and the law precludes it.

Metro won't make a final decision on the vendor until the next board meeting June 25.

Eric Bruins with the L.A. County Bike Coalition said they share Bloom's concerns about the compatibility of the system - but their chief worry is over the payment system.

He said he hopes whichever vendor they choose, Metro will create a uniform way to pay for all the bike shares, ideally the TAP card, in the same way that regional transit agencies have with bus and rail.

The bike share program is seen as an important step to bridge the first/last mile gap between people's homes or workplaces and mass transit.