Tagbike locker

Update on BikeLink electronic bike lockers

Two weeks ago I wrote about BikeLink electronic bike locker from eLock Technologies in Improving bike access to airports. I discovered some new information about the lockers about changes being made to a bike parking facility in San Francisco, California. Later, after watching a Streetsfilm video on the novel system, I realized I mistakenly identified the electronic access method.

BikeLink news in San Francisco

In October 2009, the Embarcadero BART station switched from a valet-based bike parking facility to using a BikeLink-controlled cage. The San Francisco Examiner thinks the lack of a hired attendant will deter people from parking here. The reason was cost: The labor needed to staff the cage cost $3.22 per bike while the electronic system costs only $0.42 per bike. Members pay only 3 cents per hour between 8 AM and 8 PM, and only 1 cent per hour at all other times.

The writer found three people to go along with the story and question the converted facility’s safety/security.*

The article doesn’t give up further details, but Alameda Bicycle (a local bike shop) fills in the missing information:

  • New members sign up and pay for an access card from BikeLink online or one of several physical locations.
  • The member opens the cage with their card and finds a place to park inside the cage. This is the sign-in.
  • The member locks their bike (there may not actually be an object to which one can lock their bike) and removes any easily-removed parts (like lights and bags) and exits the cage.
  • The member then exits the cage and inserts their card into the read to perform the sign-out. If 10 minutes has passed and the member has no signed out, an audible alarm will go off, and the cage operator (Alameda Bicycle) will be alerted.

There are some other rules that apply to cage use. You have to also register your bicycle so that the operator knows which bicycle belongs to which member so they can better track misuse of the facility. The operator will conduct random checks to verify this. Because of the way this electronic cage works, members have an incentive to not let non-members into the cage.

*The San Francisco Examiner article went so low as to publish this worthless quote from an individual, “I have plenty of cards already in my wallet,” said E.M., who takes his bike from Richmond to the Embarcadero station daily. “Why do I need another one for parking my bike?” The benefit of having a card to lock your bike is that you can use the same card to securely lock your bike at lockers up and down the state.

Smart card, not magnetic stripe card

I wrote that the “debit card” is a magnetic stripe card (like a credit card or transit fare card), but instead is a smart card, with the member’s data and current balance stored on an integrated circuit chip. Occasionally, some people equate smart cards with proximity, contactless, or RFID cards. It seems more popular though to only identify a smart card as one that has a gold-plated chip visible on the front side. These are more popular in Europe and Asia.

Streetfilms (a sibling of Streetsblog) visited Oakland and El Cerrito, California, in 2007, to show how they work and how they compare to traditional, leased lockers (short story: electronic lockers are on demand and can serve multiple, unique users in a day or week, while the leased locker has one unique user). Watch the video:

Improving bicycling to airports

An airport may seem like the last place to which you would ride your bike. You still want to ride there: It’s an alternative to driving (either by yourself, or getting dropped off), taking a taxi, or riding transit. It’s an ideal destination to which to encourage bicycling: Thousands of passengers move in and out, in addition to thousands more workers – switching just a portion of these trips to bicycling would reduce congestion and damaging demands on the transportation system. I see two major issues that stifle the frequency of biking to the airport: how to get there, and parking.

A photo from Jonathan Maus’ first trip to the airport via bicycle. See links in “Getting There” below.

Many cities have airports far away from population centers. Think Denver, Colorado (a commuter rail will reach DIA soon). Kansai near Kobe, Japan, is on an artificial island two miles from shore. A causeway carrying high-speed trains and a highway gets passengers to KIX.

But what if you live in a city where the airport is in town, accessible by city streets (either minor or arterial), or is even a short train ride away? It seems more plausible to bike there. I’m thinking of airports like Midway in Chicago, Illinois (MDW), or Portland, Oregon (PDX).

Getting There

In Portland, bicyclists can either take the MAX light rail train, or bike all the way (PDF map). At the airport, the path leads right into a bike parking area. Photo of bike parking at PDX and Read Jonathan Maus’ experience.

In Chicago, bicyclists can ride directly to Midway on any street (Archer provides a direct connection, but has high-volume traffic on many segments), and there are many north-south and east-west streets with marked bicycle facilities. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Orange Line terminates at the station. Bicyclists will find sheltered bike parking outside or inside the train station.

Neither situation assuages my concerns about bike parking security.

Parking: Lockers

Cities, transit agencies, and airport operators should work together to provide secure, electronically accessed bicycle lockers either on airport property, at adjacent transit centers, or at key stations on connecting trains. Electronic bike lockers will provide bicyclists with the convenience and security necessary to encourage them to ride. I would ride to the train station nearest my house if I knew I could store my bike in a locker for seven vacation days.

A bike locker at the Victoria International Airport available for cheap use near the departures entrance. Photo by John Luton.

The airport in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (YYJ), provides bike lockers for $2 a day. It’s not as convenient as one that’s accessed electronically; it requires you visit the security office to get keys. The manufacturer, Cycle Safe, offers an electronic option.

This photo shows the BikeLink electronic card access solution for bicycle lockers. Load a magnetic stripe card with cash and control any locker in the network. Photo by John Luton.

I think BikeLink is a great solution in providing electronic bike locker access. It would work like this: The local airport authority, in collaboration with the city and transit agencies, would install BikeLink lockers at several, various locations at the airport, and transit centers (both bus and train). Users purchase a smart card and load it with cash. It now works like a debit card. Users insert the card into the locker they want to use, open the door, store their bike, and lock the door. Days later, when your vacation is up, re-insert your smart card to unlock the door. The BikeLink network operator debits your card for the amount of time you used the locker.

So far, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and nearby Silicon Valley cities have installed these lockers at many train stations, parking garages, ferry terminals, libraries, and university campuses. Find a map on BikeLink’s website.

BikeLinks works similar to pay-as-you-go cellphones or RFID transit passes (like ORCA in Seattle, Washington, or the Oyster card in London, England). The BikeLink smart card differs in that it uses the traditional magnetic stripe. However, enterprising agencies could build an integrated RFID card (much like the I-Go car sharing program and the Chicago Card that opens car doors and bus doors).

I’ll be waiting for this to happen. In the meantime, on Monday, I’m going to hop on the bus and transfer to the train, a journey that costs a reasonable $2.50 and takes 30 minutes.

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