Bike share usage in the Bay Area

All bike share programs run by Alta Bike Share make their station data publicly available. For Bay Area Bike Share, you can find the real time data here. My GIS guru friend Steven Vance tells me the data is updated once every minute, and points to helpful resources like this Chicago hack night document pointing to similar APIs for Divvy, Capital Bikeshare and Hubway.

Looking at Bay Area Bike Share’s JSON datafeed it’s not too difficult to see that’s it’s an array of stations. Each element has station name and location data, the number of bikes available at that station, and the number of open slots for bike return. Oliver O’Brien used the data to include Bay Area Bike share on his real time international bike map shortly after the service began on August 29. With O’Brien’s map, you can even see usage history systemwide over the past 24 hours. He also has fancy animations showing station usage that are pretty to look at, especially on a global scale.

Bay Area Bike share station usage

I’d like to know, however, how usage compares across the different cities in the Bay Area. For that, a tiny bit of extrapolation is needed, and I can use some reader help to ensure the accuracy of my information. The 700 bikes of Bay Area Bike Share are supposed to be distributed among the five participating cities. Press material from the involved agencies says we have 350 bikes in San Francisco, 130 bikes in San Jose, and 50 bikes in each of Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Redwood City.

This only adds up to 630 bikes. Does anybody know where the missing bikes are at? You might see the O’Brien graph shows the maximum number of available bike at 570 or so.

I use those numbers to calculate the number of bike in use, so the displayed data is only as good as my assumptions. If you know my data on total bikes is wrong, please let me know in the comments. During the day today, usage in San Jose has ranged from a dozen to 20 bikes in use, San Francisco has ranged from 60 to 80, Palo Alto and Mountain View has moderate use with a half dozen bikes in use at any given time.

Redwood City is an anomaly, with 51 bikes recorded as ‘available’ for most of the day. My guess: somebody brought a Bike Share bike onto Caltrain from elsewhere and parked it in Redwood City, so RWC now has an extra bike. When nobody’s riding (which seems to be most of the time), we see minus one bikes in use on the Peninsula.

The data from the bike share stations is updated once every minute. I should probably store this data over time, graph it and see what happens. Let me know if you think something like this could be useful.

Oh, I almost forgot: click here to view the real time bike usage by city for Bay Area Bike Share.


  1. Great post! Thanks!

    It inspired me to do a little digging and I came up with these numbers:

    Keep in mind that these data are very rough:
    – I only looked at the last 24 hours
    – I only used rough estimation reading data from the graphs on the Bike Share Map
    – I am not considering time since launch, public funding for bike infrastructure, or any other factors that will impact these data.

    – The grand winner is the Velib in Paris, France with a massive fleet of bikes (14,000 or so) and just over 31% peak usage.
    – Mobilicidade in Rio de Janeiro makes a surprising appearance at the top of the peak usage charts, however their fleet is rather small with only 280 bikes or about 22,000 people per bike.
    – San Francisco is still low on the charts, just below Houston (rated the worst cycling city in America only a few years ago), but the Bay Area Bike Share program is brand new having launched less than a week ago.
    – By far the biggest loser of the list is Brisbane Australia’s CityCycle, which has invested in a large fleet of 1,800 bikes. Of which a peak of only 35 bikes (or 1.91%) were active at one time in the last 24 hours. This is consistent with Brisbane and other Australian cities’ difficulty in promoting cycling in general due to a number of safety and infrastructure issues.

  2. According to the VTA, there are (were?) 280 bikes slated for Santa Clara County. Assuming MV and PA get 50 each, that would leave San Jose with 180. This still might not be completely accurate as there were some stations that got moved and haven’t been installed yet….don’t know if the bikes destined for those stations are being held back.

  3. Thanks @IDKK – you’re right, should be 180 bikes in San Jose. I mistakenly counted Redwood City’s 50 bikes with the Santa Clara Valley total.

    I think some bikes are being held back, however. Overnight, I never saw fewer than 12 bikes “in use” in San Jose. Rather than 24 hour use, however, I think that’s a floor on the number of bikes that are actually available. I’ve also noticed Mountain View never has fewer than 3 bikes “in use” an Palo Alto always has at least six bikes in use, even at 3 AM. Finally, it appears that mysterious extra bike in Redwood City has gone back to its home.

    I’ve asked the bike share coordinator w/ VTA for the breakdown but she hasn’t gotten back to me yet.

  4. @Jonathan – that’s pretty impressive.

    I’m having trouble getting a handle on the actual number of bikes available. Your numbers for Bay Area Bike Share seems to match the reality of actual bikes on the ground, which conflicts the published numbers I’ve seen claiming up to 700 bikes in the Bay Area. Can you point me to where you found the 570 total bikes available?

  5. The number of bikes described in press releases is always a fair bit higher than the number out in service at any given time. For example, NYC claims 6,000 bikes, but actually has a little over 4,000 out at a time. Same is true nearly everywhere, as bikes are constantly being repaired. You need to have a reserve supply, to recirculate broken/damaged bikes.

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