Electric-bicycle-sharing pilot program to launch in Berkeley, San Francisco in 2014

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The cities of Berkeley and San Francisco are slated to launch a pilot electric-bicycle-sharing program in spring 2014.

Last Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors granted $1.5 million for the program, which aims to increase mobility for Bay Area commuters, reduce emissions and lessen traffic congestion in the Bay Area. The program partners City CarShare, a Bay Area nonprofit car-sharing service, with the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies.

During the pilot period, the UC Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center will evaluate energy and environmental impacts of the service and test the electric bicycle’s influence on commuters’ methods. The pilot period will end in 2018.

“The idea is that (the electric bicycle) becomes a resource, very much like a Zipcar,” said Daniel Kammen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center. “You can go shopping and do various things up and down Berkeley’s hills. You’ll need the electric feature to get back and forth.”

According to Susan Shaheen, co-director of the research center and leader of the electric-bicycle project, the project may be the first to be tested in the United States.

Participants can access the bikes from up to 25 locations, eight of which are in Berkeley — including areas on the Northside and Southside near campus in the city of Berkeley as well as in Downtown Berkeley, according to Ben Jose, spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The program will provide 90 bikes, and 22 of the 90 will be electric cargo bicycles.

“Given the hilly terrain of San Francisco and some of Berkeley, we think the electric bike might be an attractive option to many, particularly when transporting cargo,” Shaheen said.

According to Jose, studies show that for every car shared, up to 13 cars can be taken off the road, and the same concept can be applied to electric-bike sharing.

“Bicycle sharing has the potential to benefit the environment by reducing the need for people to own one or more personal vehicles,” he said.

Bikers will be able to ride at a maximum of 20 miles per hour with the electric bicycle.

To rent electric bicycles, which are provided and maintained by City CarShare, bikers have to be members of the organization and can sign up using their smartphones or computers. Bikers must make round trips with the electric bikes, said Anita Daley, marketing director of City CarShare.

Residents and UC Berkeley students and faculty members can take part in the program as members of UC Berkeley Campus Shared Services, which connects campus members to many administrative programs. According to Daley, the cost of sharing an electric bike is 40 to 60 percent less than the cost of sharing a car, and bikers will not be charged a mileage fee.

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected].

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that electronic bikes will be accessed on the north and south ends of the UC Berkeley campus. The bikes will be accessible on Northside and Southside in the city of Berkeley near campus. A previous version of this article may have implied that the electric-bicycle-sharing program will be available to anyone. Only members of City CarShare will be able to rent the electric bikes.

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  • Eugenian

    An electric cargo bike provides a number of advantages over a conventional bike, but sharing one helps offset one disadvantage: start-up cost.
    Bicycles offer many benefits, but are limited in range, cargo capacity, hill climbing, and adaptability to people with physical limitations. Cargo bikes offer a viable alternative, but require a pretty robust rider to pedal with a 100+ pound load, especially for distances over ten miles and hilly terrain. While an electric cargo bike overcomes these problems, the purchase cost of around $3,000 is pretty high, especially if one wants to keep smaller bikes for short trips.
    As much as it is a benefit to neighborhoods to buy locally, for large families true savings are from bulk purchases often available only from distant locations. These can be a challenge to access by cargo bike yet the cost of using a car for these trips offsets some of the savings.
    Sharing an electric cargo bike means distributing the start-up costs while keeping the benefits of bicycle transportartion. If challenges of training, liability and scheduling can be overcome, they can extend the bicycle’s capability and allow families to keep the car home or get by without one altogether.