San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals riding one of the Bay Bikes during the program’s launch on Thursday. (Courtesy City of San Mateo)

San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals riding one of the Bay Bikes during the program’s launch on Thursday. (Courtesy City of San Mateo)

San Mateo bike share program rolls out new technology

San Mateo’s new bike share program has an unusual twist — you don’t necessarily have to return the bike when you’re done riding it.

That’s because technology for tracking and unlocking the bikes is built into the bikes themselves, freeing users from having to return the bikes to specific hubs.

Like the Bay Area Bike Share program in San Francisco, which requires riders to return the bikes to hubs, San Mateo’s program —Bay Bikes — allows users to borrow distinctive blue bikes from various locations, paying either for short-term use, or on a monthly basis.

But the technology that eliminates the need to return the bikes in San Mateo makes for a more convenient and flexible user experience, creators of the program say.

Justin Wiley is the vice president of business development for Social Bicycles, which designed and built the bikes, as well as created the program’s physical and digital infrastructure.

“If you look at some of the more traditional programs that require you to have docking stations and kiosks, those aren’t very flexible,” Wiley said. “One of the worst experiences for a user is getting to a bike dock and discovering it’s full.”

If a Bay Bikes dock is full, that’s not a problem, Wiley said, because users can drop off bikes almost anywhere within 100 feet of a dock, free of charge. And for a $3 fee, users can leave the bikes outside that 100-foot zone, in almost any public place in San Mateo.

There are at least 11 Bay Bike docks in San Mateo. Locations include all three of the town’s Caltrain stations, along with the San Mateo County Medical Center, the Bay Meadows housing development and several downtown spots. Docks can also be found on private property, at the campuses of Kaiser Permanente, Salesforce, and other employers.

The bikes carry GPS devices, allowing program staff to find and return them to docks. But Wiley noted if a user picks up a bike a previous rider dropped off more than 100 feet from a dock, that user receives a $3 credit.

San Mateo Interim Economic Development Manager Kathy Kleinbaum said the city has purchased 50 bikes, at a cost of about $1,500 each, and committed to having the program operate for three years by Bikes Make Life Better, a local company that facilitates bike share programs.

Bikes Make Life Better co-founder Amy Harcourt said the focus is on “last mile” commuters, such as those who might arrive at a Caltrain station and then ride a bike several blocks to work.

But reducing the need for car trips is also a priority, according to Harcourt.

“Very rarely can someone bike commute every day,” Harcourt said, “But if we can get people biking to work one day per week, that makes a significant contribution to health, sustainability and reduced traffic impacts.”

San Mateo’s cost over the next three years will be about $350,000. That figure, Kleinbaum noted, does not include any revenues the city gets back from the program.

For $15 per month, users can ride for one hour per day, and that hour doesn’t have to be all at once. Additional time with a bike is $5 per hour, Kleinbaum said, but that time is pro-rated, so users only pay for the time they use.

The bikes are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Kleinbaum noted, and users who don’t want to sign up for a monthly subscription can simply pay $5 per hour.

Other revenues could come from corporate sponsorships, Kleinbaum added.

To register for Bay Bikes, visit

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