A Bay Area bike share program that began last summer in San Jose and San Francisco is planning its first expansion into the East Bay communities of Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville.

The East Bay debut could be as early as late 2015 for the bright blue bicycles, which can be checked out for free rides of up to 30 minutes at a time, reports the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The debut date and expansion costs are among the many details yet to be worked out.

On Wednesday, a commission committee is scheduled to take a big step forward with the expansion. The committee will consider allocating $8.7 million in federal money to continue the existing bike share program in five cities and provide a share of the money needed for the expansion into the three East Bay cities.

The commission also is seeking state funds.

"We think these East Bay locations are a good place to expand the bike share program," said Randy Rentschler, a commission spokesman. "The areas are relatively flat, have relatively dense development, and there's a lot of interest in cycling there."

Participants in the bike share program pay $88 for a year, $22 for three days or $9 for a day to have unlimited number of free trips up to 30 minutes long. Fees are added for longer trips.

Planners say bike share programs make public transit more popular and effective because riders can start or end their trips with a short bike trek.

To start the East Bay bike service, commission planners recommend adding 60 bike stations and 750 bikes in some 8.5 square miles of the three cities.

"You need a critical mass of users to make these programs work," Rentschler said, "and you need to look carefully for the right places for bike stations."

The initial Bay Area Bike Share pilot program started in August in five cities and did best in densely developed areas.

Each bike in San Francisco was used 2.05 times a day. The average use was 0.44 times per day in San Jose, 0.41 in Palo Alto. 0.32 times in Mountain View, and 0.09 times per day in Redwood City, according to a commission report.

"Bike share systems work well where stations are located no more than one-half-mile apart, allowing the customer to conveniently ride from one dock (station) to another," the report concluded.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District started the share program last year with some $11.4 million, but the commission is going to take over the reins.

The oversight switch -- as well as the time needed to work with East Bay cities and transit agencies -- makes it unlikely that the bike share expansion can start before late 2015, and possibly not until 2016, said John Goodwin, an MTC spokesman.

Bike advocacy groups want an earlier start. The commission should target spring 2015 for a startup, said Renee Rivera, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.

The East Bay could begin the Bay Area bike share program that rolled-out to San Francisco, the peninsula and other southbay cities last summer.
The East Bay could begin the Bay Area bike share program that rolled-out to San Francisco, the peninsula and other southbay cities last summer. (Kirstina Sangsahachart/ Daily News)

"The public is ready for this," Rivera said. "If we wait too long, my concern is another bike share program -- the private sector -- may move in and make it difficult to have one regional system that is simply for everyone to use."

Rivera said she thinks private sponsors should be sought to underwrite bike share costs.

In some other states, bike share programs have accepted corporate underwriting in exchange for letting the donors display images of their company brand.

Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.