Accessing Secure Bike Parking at College Park

April 29th, 2011

Accessing secure bike parking with third-party equipment at Tri-Met. Photo courtesy of KTesh (click for original context)

Back in January, we asked for your opinions on how bicyclists could pay and get access to a pilot secure bicycle parking facility at College Park station.  Thanks to you all for your great feedback.  Planning for the project is actively underway, and we wanted to give a quick update.

Survey Says… The results from the (admittedly non-scientific) survey showed:

  • A willingness to pay some small amount for the improved service
  • Strong support for using your existing SmarTrip card
  • A moderate preference for pay-per-use fees, rather than annual fees

Some Practical Constraints: As we plan this project further, we will keep these results in mind and try to accommodate them as best we can. However, we face some practical limitations in using our SmarTrip card, and some trade-offs in implementing this pilot project quickly and with most convenience for you.

  • Full integration with our SmarTrip card system would take time to complete a software re-programming to accommodate a new bicycle parking fare product, and would restrict our ability to collect fees based on usage.   This would add more cost and delay than we feel is warranted for this pilot project.
  • Using pre-tax SmartBenefits funds creates yet more complexity for the SmarTrip system, since we face evolving federal rules about how pre-tax transit and parking funds can be used.
  • Metro is already planning the next generation of electronic fare collection technology using open standards, which will accommodate bike parking more easily than changing the existing technology.  Rather than delay the project for SmarTrip integration only to re-design in several years, we are designing this bike facility to be compatible with the new technology.

In addition, Metro doesn’t immediately have the customer support resources that we want to offer bicyclists, such as a 24-hour support hotline, on-call equipment maintenance, a website for bike parking account management, equipment maintenance, etc.  But, an experienced outside party does.

Recommendation: So, we plan to try the third-party access approach for this pilot.   An outside contractor will administer accounts, maintain the equipment, and provide customer support.  Of course, part of the purpose of this pilot project is to try innovative ways to attract riders, and learn from the experience.  We will revisit the choice once the project is implemented and we have gauged your response.

Secure bike parking access at BikeStation Santa Barbara, CA. Photo courtesy Target Salad (click for original context)

Rationale for Decision:  We know this isn’t quite as convenient for bicyclists as just using your SmarTrip card.  You’ll need to maintain a separate account, which is an extra step for you.  But, we think this approach is preferable in many other ways:

  • Customer Service.  An outside vendor is well equipped to handle the ongoing operations and maintenance of this facility at low cost to Metro.  Other vendors run similar facilities at our peer transit agencies, and can best meet bicyclists’ needs in terms of customer service, equipment, and maintenance.  For example, an outside vendor can help a locked-out customer remotely, even after hours.
  • Attract Occasional Users.  An outside system can give us the flexibility to charge small incremental fees to use the facility, which was a top request we heard from you.  This way, you only pay when you park – which is good for occasional users and regular commuters alike.  And that helps us maximize ridership benefits.
  • Simple and Easy to Install.  We can implement the facility quickly.

What’s Next? We continue to design the facility and work through logistical issues, and we hope to be under construction in the summer.  Remember, this is a learning process for us and you.  We want to do the project right – to be an example for other locations in the future, and of course, to attract bikers!

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