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First bike share program in LA County begins pilot in Santa Monica

A Santa Monica Breeze bike share station at Arizona Avenue and 4th Street near the Third Street Promenade is one of seven pilot stations in the city.
A Santa Monica Breeze bike share station at Arizona Avenue and 4th Street near the Third Street Promenade is one of seven pilot stations in the city.
Meghan McCarty/KPCC

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The bright green bikes of the Santa Monica Breeze bike share system have hit the streets of the beach city.

The pilot program, running through the end of the September, is the first bike share system to operate in to Los Angeles county. Similar systems -- which allow users to check out bikes from a self-serve station, ride them elsewhere and return them to any station for a fee -- have been successful in New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

Because the bikes can be easily picked up and dropped off as needed and require no storage, they're seen as a good option to bridge the gap between transit hubs and other destinations, such as homes and workplaces.

Over the Labor Day weekend, volunteers from the Santa Monica Spoke chapter of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition were on hand at several stations educating the public about the new program.

"It's not just for fun," said Santa Monica Spoke director Cynthia Rose, who stressed the practical application of the bikes. "Whether you bus, bike or drive this can be the extension of that trip to get a little bit further quickly and then back."

Santa Monica resident Renee Labbe stopped by to check out the bikes. Having enjoyed similar systems in Europe, she was eager to try it out in her home town.

"It's a better, more efficient way than trying to navigate traffic and find a parking space," she said. "There's no maintenance, no storage problems. You just grab the bike and go."

Bikes are docked at seven stations throughout the city during the test period. Those who want to try them out must buy a $99 "Founding Membership" good for a year. The city and bike share vendor, Cycle Hop, will be taking feedback on the system until the full 500-bike program is rolled out at 80 stations in November.

The bikes are equipped with check-out technology operated by smartphone or by a special card. Because the technology is located on the bike rather than the dock station, they can actually be left anywhere, even outside a docking station, though that incurs an extra fee.

The same system is set to be launched in Long Beach and Beverly Hills in coming months, though there has been some controversy over competing and potentially incompatible bike systems in the county.

Despite objections from several Santa Monica officials, L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided in June to contract with a different bike share company for its own program, starting in downtown Los Angeles and expanding throughout the county.

Because the check-out equipment for Metro's system will be on the dock, rather than the bike, the two systems will be technologically incompatible, though the agency has vowed to work with Santa Monica to create overlap zones where both docking stations will be available.