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Bike Nation USA Bringing Bike Sharing To Downtown L.A.

Axel Hellman |
December 11, 2012 | 12:18 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The bike that will deployed in Long Beach and L.A.
The bike that will deployed in Long Beach and L.A.
Hundreds of rental bikes will be deployed in early 2013 to the streets of Downtown Los Angeles.  Bike Nation USA, a company based in Tustin, announced plans in April to place 175 bike rental stations in an area that will stretch from Union Station to Exposition Park.

Derek Fretheim, the Chief Operating Officer of Bike Nation USA, said a launch date isn't set, but that it will be soon.

“We’re going to have a beta launch in the first part of 2013," he said. "We'll run that beta program for 60 to 90 days, and once that beta program is completed, we’ll begin our installation. Realistically, we’re looking at the early second quarter of 2013."

Bike sharing is a recent innovation in urban transportation that has only existed in North America for a few years.  Such systems already exist in Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Washington DC, and a few other cities, and a new system is planned in New York City.

Bike Nation USA has already begun operation in Anaheim.  There are also plans to spread to Venice, Hollywood, Westwood, and Long Beach.

The existing bike sharing systems all work in the same way that the Los Angeles system will. Customers can use a credit card to pay for a daily membership, and then pay an additional rate for how long they use the bike. 

The Bike Nation system will charge $6 for a 24-hour subscription, with discounts for longer subscriptions.  There will be no additional fee for a trip under a half hour, but longer trips will incur extra charges.  Bike sharing is intended for short trips around the city, not extended rentals.

One potential problem with Bike Nation USA’s payment structure is that the $6 day pass is not practical for people making a single, short trip. 

Jennifer Perez works downtown and indicated that she would consider using the bike sharing system.

“If you just want to use it to ride a couple blocks, [$6] is kind of high," she said. "You could just jump on the DASH or the bus for cheaper.”

Fretheim said Bike Nation USA can’t offer a single trip payment option because the credit card fees for such a small payment would wipe away any revenue.  He said, ”We plan to do some adjustments once we’re installed and that’s one of the things that has surfaced, that you can’t do a small, one time use. We’d be interested in a ten-trip ticket that could be purchased.”

Payment will be by credit, debit, or prepaid card to guarantee riders to return their bikes in a timely manner.   According to a survey by Consumer Reports in 2009, nearly a third of Americans do not own a credit card.  And 2010 statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston show that 20 percent of Americans do not own a debit card.  The segment of the population that lack a credit, debit, or credit card is disproportionately elderly, young, minority, or low-income.  However, Bike Nation USA plans to have a gift-card option for those without bank cards.

One obstacle to the success of a bike sharing system in Downtown Los Angeles is the condition of the streets.  Although bike lanes have been added to a few Downtown streets,  many streets have no dedicated bicycle infrastructure, which many potential Bike Nation USA customers perceive as unsafe.

Another L.A. resident, Michael, wouldn't give his last name, though he said that street conditions were a problem for him.

“I don’t think I’d feel all that comfortable riding around in [Downtown] L.A.," he said. "If it’s close I’ll walk, if it’s far I’ll get in a car.”

Bike lane on Spring Street. (Creative Commons)
Bike lane on Spring Street. (Creative Commons)

Fretheim said he's optimistic that the city would continue to accelerate improvements to bike infrastructure. He said the system would lead to more people riding bikes downtown, which would prompt the city to add more bike lanes. Furthermore, Bike Nation USA would have data about where people take out and return bikes that would help the city improve those corridors that people bike on the most.

Despite pricing and infrastructure issues, many are excited for the debut of bike sharing in Los Angeles.  Jeff Olsen, who says that he would use the system, sees many advantages.

“It makes sense," Olsen said. "It cuts down on traffic, it’s good exercise and less pollution. It seems to work in European cities.”

Fretheim said Bike Nation is targeting four demographics,  "One is the employee who is taking transit to downtown.  [We would be] providing connectivity from the train station to their place of employment. The second is the hotel guest or convention-goer.  Third is the resident populace.  Last, the student population between USC and L.A. Trade Tech."

Sebastian B. is a prospective member of the third group.

“I probably would use it," he said. "I don’t have a car at the moment and I plan on moving downtown in the next few months, so something like [bike sharing] would come in handy.”

The Los Angeles bike share system is entirely privately funded.  Bike Nation USA has invested $16 million in the project.  Yet the proposed rental rates are actually below what other bike share systems charge.  Fretheim says that Bike Nation USA hopes to find a corporate sponsor, using London’s Barclays Cycle Hire, which is funded by Barclay’s Bank.  New York’s planned Citibike is similarly sponsored by Citibank.

When Bike Nation USA’s rental system is fully installed across Los Angeles, it will be bigger than any existing bike sharing system in the country.


To read more Neon Tommy articles about biking in Los Angeles, click here.

To read more Neon Tommy articles about Downtown Los Angeles, click here.

To reach Axel Hellman click here.



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