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Bike sharing gains momentum as Long Beach launches system

A photo from the unveiling of the Long Beach Bike Share program.
City of Long Beach
The Long Beach bike-share program launched last week, expanding the short-term rentals in Los Angeles County.

Long Beach  last week became the second city in Los Angeles County to launch a bike sharing program, with several more short-term bike rental systems expected to roll out in other locations in coming months.

Because bike sharing allows users to check out a bike and then drop it off at a different location, it's seen as a good option to bridge the so-called first or last mile gap between a person's destination and a transit stop.

While L.A. has trailed behind other big cities like New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco in installing bike-share systems, the idea seems to be catching on of late. Santa Monica launched its system in July and West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and downtown L.A. are all on tap to get their systems this year.

Each region will have about 500 bikes at 50 to 75 different locations. The cost to rent the bikes runs from $6 or $7 an hour with monthly or yearly memberships also being offered.

One problem is the bike systems might not work together. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has chosen a different bike system for its pilot program in downtown L.A. and future expansions to Pasadena and Venice. So the bikes and docking systems will be different than those used by Santa Monica, Long Beach, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Baffling potential users even further, Santa Monica already serves Venice.

Metro's decision last summer brought criticism from some local officials who worried that the lack of a uniform system across the region would cause confusion and make the bikes harder to use across city boundaries.

"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.

But Metro officials said they aren't worried about having different bike systems in different areas.

"We would never advise or expect that someone would take a bike from Long Beach and then come into downtown and look for a place to dock it. That’s not how bike share works," said Metro project manager Laura Cornejo.

Rather, the bikes, which are heavy and slow, are intended for short connecting trips in one area. Thus, a user could drop one off at a light rail station, take the train and then rent another one at the other end.

Metro, which provides the bulk of the funding for all bike-share programs in the county, has stipulated that all future systems use Metro's bikes to receive its funds. 

The agency will also consider setting up dual docking systems in areas that overlap and putting in place a single payment system using the TAP card.