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LA Metro draws 130,000 rides, but still in race to make bike share goal

A rider checks out a bike share bicycle downtown.
L.A. Metro/Flickr
A rider checks out one of Metro's shared bicycles in downtown Los Angeles.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will know in three months if its bike share program — which the agency hailed as revolutionary upon its July debut — is hitting a target for ridership.

Numbers released thus far show that the L.A. county transit agency has a way to go before reaching its mid-summer goal to have two rides every day for each of its 800 bikes. 

On March 31st, the most recent day for which data is available, each bike was at less than half that figure: 0.7 rides per bike.

Riders have been able to check out bikes and pedal from one station to another ever since the bike sharing pilot program launched. The stations are clustered in and around downtown L.A. for now.

Metro doesn't just rent out its black and green bikes — the agency collects detailed data on every trip they make. From the July 7 launch last year through this past March, Metro tracked more than 134,000 rides on its fledgling system. 

The data provides a clear picture of just how Angelenos used the system in its first nine months.

Ridership dipped over the winter

August was a banner month for bike share, with the system notching nearly 25,000 rides. It topped a weekly mark of 5,000 rides four different weeks.

But the system hasn't hit that milestone since. Ridership declined in the fall and winter months, dropping of a low of just under 2,000 weekly rides in late December. Metro blames the weather.

Note: partial weeks omitted from chart

"We just went through the rainiest winter we've had in years," said Metro spokesman Dave Sotero.  "Angelenos may not be used to riding in the rain and cold."

He said the decline in ridership over the winter echoes seasonal patterns in other bike share systems, although many of those cities have harsher winters than Los Angeles.

Still, Sotero is cheered by the ridership gains in March, as rains let up and temperatures turned warner. That could be a promising sign for ridership over the next few months.

Riders take thousands of different routes

Metro's data tracks where people check out and drop off bikes, and that information shows people using the system in diverse ways. Riders have logged more than 3,000 combinations of start and end points routes between the system's 60-plus stations. And no single route predominates.

That said, one trip was more common than any other: the ride between Union Station and Main and 1st streets, and vice versa. Users made the half-mile trip some 1,609 times.

Metro's Sotero says bike share fills a gap between trips that are too long to walk and too short to drive or for transit. So there's no surprise that there are many destinations downtown where bikes work.

Other trips have been extremely rare. In nearly nine months, only one rider checked out a bike at 2nd and Hill streets and pedaled over to at Stanford Avenue and 12th Street, two miles away. 

Other nuggets from the data:

  • The typical trip has taken about 10 minutes.
  • 90 percent of trips are one-way rides.
  • Over 60 percent of trips are by riders with a monthly pass; 31 percent are walk-ups.

Though many of the most popular bike share locations are near Metro rail stations, such as the 7th Street/Metro Center stop, the data does not indicate how many people used transit in conjunction with their bike share trip.

Riders mainly use bikes downtown

The bike share program serves downtown, and a few nearby neighborhoods. And people use it overwhelmingly to travel downtown. Almost 90 percent of trips started and ended in downtown Los Angeles, according to KPCC's analysis.

Most common one-way Metro bike share trips by neighborhood start and finish

Start neighborhood End neighborhood Number of trips Percent of all trips
Downtown Downtown 105,470 89
Chinatown Downtown 3,954 3.3
Downtown Chinatown 3,469 2.9
Westlake Downtown 2,702 2.8
Downtown Westlake 1,691 1.4

Riders use bike share to get downtown from adjoining areas. But they don't use it as often to leave downtown for those same neighborhoods, according to the data.

KPCC used the L.A. Times' Mapping Los Angeles neighborhood boundaries to determine where stations are located. Along with downtown, only Chinatown, Historic South-Central and Westlake boasted bike share stations during the first nine months of the program. Metro has no immediate plans to add new stations downtown.

Other cities in the county, including Long Beach, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, have launched bike share efforts of their own, but those are miles away from the downtown network

L.A.'s bike share program is tiny

While 134,000 rides is nothing to sneeze at in car-centric Southern California, that's averaged to about one ride per bike per day. Metro's Dave Sotero said the agency hopes to double that number by the program's one-year mark in early July.

A planned expansion to Venice, Pasadena and the Port of Los Angeles could boost ridership. So could new bike lanes downtown, and increased familiarity with the system during the more bike-friendly spring and summer months.

But even if that happens, ridership Los Angeles will lag far behind other bike share systems in the country.

The Bay Area's system, which serves central areas of San Francisco and San Jose, logged more than 300,000 trips in its most recent year of operation. The system launched in August 2013.

And in New York, the local Citi Bikes topped 10 million rides in 2015. That bike share system is far more extensive than Metro's downtown network, and has been running for years. It would take the downtown L.A. system about 55 years to get to 10 million rides at its current pace.