Electronic bike lockers

I finally got my BikeLink card for access to the electronic bike lockers in Santa Cruz and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

BikeLink logo

BikeLink is a secure on-demand parking system for bicycles. The BikeLink smart card opens bike lockers scattered around downtown Santa Cruz. Around the Bay Area, BikeLink gives access to lockers and bike stations at BART, AC Transit, and VTA stations.

Outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, BikeLink lockers can be found in San Diego, at TriMet stations outside of Portland, in Vancouver WA, and at the WMATA College Park Park & Ride in Maryland.

The lockers are typically big metal boxes with an electronic card reader. This allows me to leave gadgets and accessories on the bike without worry about theft. The lockers I’ve tried are wedge shaped on the inside, presumably to prevent use as a storage locker or overnight shelter. It also very effectively limits the locker to a single bicycle with no trailer. My road bike just barely fits. There’s likely no way any kind of long bike or cargo bike can fit, but I’ll try to remember to bring a tape measure so you know exactly how much space you have.



The Santa Cruz lockers charge 3 cents to 5 cents per hour (depending on location). The cost is taken from the pre-loaded BikeLink smart cards.

What else? The user interface is pretty horrible. You insert the card, use the single button to scroll through available rental times (minimum is 5 hours; over value refunded at end of rental), then remove the card to open the door. You insert and remove the card at the end of the locker rental. Once you do it once or twice it’s no sweat, but still the initial impression is one of clunkiness.

To add value, you enter your credit card info at the BikeLink website. You then get a code you enter at a BikeLink locker, using that single button to scroll through the entire alphabet and numerals to enter your alphanumeric code.


Bike Station

A similar competing solution is Bikestation, which has a handful of locations in California, along with a facility in Hillsboro OR and one in Washington DC. You use your Bikestation card to access a “bike station” — a shared use room or free standing building where multiple bikes are stored. While BikeLink has a few “bike station” style facilities in addition to the lockers, Bikestation established the first American bike station in Long Beach, CA in 1996. Those in the SF Bay Area might know about the Palo Alto Bikestation located at University Avenue Caltrain.

Robert in Boulder tells me there’s a similar bike locker along the BOLT RTD line. Electronic card keys open the doors to Bus Then Bike cages located in Boulder and Longmont.

17 Comments

  • mark Sauerwald
    August 27, 2012 - 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I use the Bikelink lockers in Sunnyvale, and really like the system – only complaint is that I’d like to see more lockers around.

  • stuart
    August 27, 2012 - 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I wish they had gone with something like this in Dallas instead of those stupid BikeLids.

  • ark
    August 27, 2012 - 2:01 pm | Permalink

    you can fill up the cards at the pay-with-dismay machines that are usually around the same area. The machines where you choose your car parking spot, go to the machine, enter your parking spot number and walk back to your car and find you already got a ticket. However at 3-5c/hour you rarely need to fill it up. The one press of the button at either end of the rental makes it really simple.

  • Jessi
    August 27, 2012 - 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I can’t tell you the number of times the lock got stuck and I had to wait half an hour for someone to break out my bike from the lockers at the Santa Cruz Metro, before I gave up on them…

  • August 27, 2012 - 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I thought the pay machines just refilled the Santa Cruz parking smart cards? They also work on BikeLink cards?

    But you’re right — I can probably last a full year on the initial $20 charge.

  • August 27, 2012 - 2:38 pm | Permalink

    if the recumbent don’t fit you must acquit…

  • August 27, 2012 - 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Oooh. Not a good feeling to know about this. Does this happen only at the Metro Center lockers?

  • August 27, 2012 - 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Have you tried your bent? Maybe we can meet at River Oaks sometime and test it out.

  • Max Power
    August 27, 2012 - 6:23 pm | Permalink

    We have them in New Jersey as monthly rentals at train stations. They use a key instead of a card, but have the same wedge floorplan that allows doors on both sides of the structure. Unfortunately, the height is too low to fit my wife’s Electra Townie cruiser’s handlebars without removing the front wheel.

  • Jessi
    August 27, 2012 - 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Those are the only ones I’ve ever tried. I used to work across the street from the Metro. I ended up using the regular bike racks on Pacific. Never had a problem. My bike was cheap, though, not a very tempting target.

  • August 28, 2012 - 9:11 am | Permalink

    I wonder about a couple of my bikes, but it does appear the locker designers didn’t even think beyond anything besides your basic very traditional bike.

    The keys mean you have an assigned locker, right? which means it’s unavailable for use even it it’s otherwise empty? The idea behind electronic lockers is to make the storage space available to more people. Around here, we have dozens upon dozens of bike lockers that sit empty because somebody owns the key to it but moved away five years ago. VTA (Silicon Valley transit agency) is converting these all to use BikeLink locks instead.

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  • Prinzrob
    August 28, 2012 - 9:22 am | Permalink

    It’s also worth mentioning that your BikeLink card will also get you into the 24-hour secure bike room at the downtown Berkeley Bike Station (113 parking spaces, lockers, and a bathroom!) as well as the bike rooms at the Ashby and Embarcadero BART stations. BART is planning similar facilities at the MacArthur and 19th St stations in Oakland, and the Civic Center station in SF.

    I agree that the retrofitted lockers that have had BikeLink access added to them are pretty clunky, but the ones BikeLink has built from the ground up are actually quite nice. The Bay Area BART station lockers are getting filled to capacity on some days so additional ones are being planned for installation at many areas (including Amtrak stations and ferry landings). The Pleasant Hill BART station alone already has 104 spaces!

  • Prinzrob
    August 28, 2012 - 9:26 am | Permalink

    Pro BikeLink user tip: At a locker, you can also press and hold the button while inserting your card to view your balance, without having to initiate parking.

    Also, BikeLink has some of the best customer service around. They always reply promptly and personally to any questions, concerns, or reports of malfunctioning equipment.

  • August 28, 2012 - 9:33 am | Permalink

    I think I like the idea of BikeLids, but the plastic surface gets pretty gnarly looking after a while.

  • stuart
    August 28, 2012 - 9:42 am | Permalink

    I don’t care what they look like as long as they are functional. Unfortunately, half of the BikeLids at my train station broke after a year. Two are completely unusable while the other is OK but you have to prop it open with your head while you roll in and lock your bike.

    Unfortunately, since these were funded through a one-time TSA grant and have no way of generating revenue, there is no money for maintenance.

    I also think the company is a little misleading on their security. Or maybe I’m just bitter since my brand-new Kona Dew Plus was stolen from one.

  • August 28, 2012 - 10:21 am | Permalink

    I did a quick survey of BikeLink locations close to me. VTA headquarters is about a mile from my office, and their dozen BikeLink lockers seem to be always available. Downtown Santa Cruz seems to have adequate capacity — some use but lockers seem to mostly be available, especially as you get away from the transit center.

    Thanks for the balance user tip. Handy to know.

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