A concession model for Bay Area Bike Share

Bike share station at City Hall

by sfbike, on Flickr

The official money hunt for a broader Bay Area Bike Share (BABS) program is now on. Citizens are asking if BAAQMD, the project’s lead agency, will find a sponsor for the system. Could cities pay for it themselves?

Bike share programs tend to attract a lot of positive attention soon after they’re implemented. Every government or politician who styles themselves as progressive and bike-friendly wants to get in on the game. While funding is a chronic issue, the unified nature of BABS administration could make it difficult for city-led expansions to gain administrative traction.

The answer is for BABS and BAAQMD to function as a service provider, acting as a go-between with Alta, the company providing the BABS bikes, docks, and planning, and localities who want in on the system. Host cities would pay for their portion of the system’s ongoing maintenance and capital investment. BAAQMD would just keep track of membership, the overall contract with Alta, and coordinate the various funding sources.

So if, say, San Francisco wants to fund a city-wide rollout of the system sponsored by Bank of America, BAAQMD should roll with it. BAAQMD gets the money to pay for the contract, and San Francisco gets the bike share system it wants. And if the Transportation Authority of Marin stitches together some federal grants and a BioMarin sponsorship for a county-wide system, BAAQMD can roll with that, too.

The concession system could be sponsor-driven, too. If Bank of America sponsors a San Francisco-wide rollout of BABS, it may want to do the same in Oakland. It could approach the city, offer to pay for their portion of the system and, if Oakland gives the okay, be the Oakland sponsor. BAAQMD would handle the funding and Alta.

Under a concession model, subscription money could be used in a few ways. It could be treated as an investment pool, allowing BABS to quickly roll out expansions to interested cities or areas. This would ease up-front investment costs by cities and allow the system to expand more readily.

Alternatively, the money could be doled out based on where BABS users from a given zip code use BABS the most, helping support a deeper system as well as ongoing costs. Not every city is the same, after all, and if a rural city like Healdsburg wants an expansion it should have to shoulder the extra cost of being so remote.

The Bay Area is too large and scattered an area for a bike share system to be managed or funded from a single source. By allowing localities to secure their own funding and planning for their own daughter systems, BAAQMD can let BABS grow organically into the areas that most want it and can most afford it. BAAQMD fills the role of regional coordinator but is unburdened from trying to find sponsors to cover the entire cost of system expansion and maintenance.

This puts the onus of expansion back in the hands of elected officials, closer to the citizens who will ask for it.

Written by David Edmondson

David Edmondson

David is a native Marinite working in Washington, DC. He writes about how to apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of his home.

4 comments to A concession model for Bay Area Bike Share

  • […] Vibrant Bay Area: Bay Area Bike Share Should Adopt a “Concession Model” to Fund Expansions […]

  • I don’t know if there is anything worse than advocating to sell off naming rights of a public service to the highest bidder.

    If Bay Area Bike Share decides they only way they want to expand is by making members peddle ads for banks around the entire system should be burned to ground. Anyone who would turn Bay Area Bike Share turns into advertising billboards deserves a very painful fate.

  • Chris R

    Not everything needs to be turned into a billboard for corporate greenwashing. We have somewhere around 50 parklets in San Francisco that were sponsor and funded by communities and local businesses. If sponsorship is going to be the model, make it more like park benches: “This station is brought to you by the SF Bike Collation” rather that something terrible and corporate like “Bike of America” which would likely face opposition to installing branded bike stations anywhere close to any other bank. The incentive for local sponsorship is avoiding just that situation.

    What does a bike station cost? BAAQMD and BABS can place a dollar figure on install and upkeep along with rules and restrictions as a package, just like SF did with the parklet program.

  • […] Bay Area brainstorm on Bay Area Bike Share funding models. Streetsblog SF reports Bay Area Bike Share off to an underwhelming start. And the Chron reports on […]