green commute | 511 Contra Costa

Bay Area Bike-Share– Helping Us Get Around (2013)

Bay Area Bike Share launch in San Jose CA
Will the streets of the Bay Area soon be full with a sea of bike-share commuters cycling that last mile from BART to the workplace? Only time will tell. Photo credit: Richard Masoner
The Bay Area is not new to transportation innovations. Last year, we celebrated four successful decades of the visionary commuter rail known as BART, which stills sees climbing ridership  and continues be seen as a model of sustainable transportation for the rest of the nation. Coincidentally, last year also marked the 75th anniversary of another incredible Bay Area infrastructural transportation monument, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Today, the Bay Area is leading the way in California again*, albeit with a subtler and humbler infrastructural feature, but one that nonetheless has the potential to hugely impact the way we move– Bay Area Bike Share. Bay Area Bike Share just launched Thursday, August 29th, so the system is merely in its infancy, but similar systems have been around Europe for a while in cities such as Paris and London, and  New York City was recently graced with its own iconic bike share earlier this year. Stateside, bike-share programs so far has proven to be surprisingly successful, especially in New York and D.C. Here in the Bay Area, bike share seems to have great potential to compliment our existing excellent regional public transport system, which is perhaps why Bay Area Bike Share is initially launching in Downtown San Francisco and along the Caltrain corridor in Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose.
Here’s how the system works:

  1. Get a Bay Area Bike Share Membership (or pay for a single day use, but longer membership quickly pay off).
  2. Use Annual Member key or enter your Ride Code (provided to 24-Hour and 3-Day Members) to unlock a bicycle from any station.
  3. RIDE – Run errands, ride to and/or from your BART station, commute to work,  or just go for a spin and use it as a gym membership of sorts!
  4. Return the bike to the nearest station.
  5. Repeat steps 2 through 4. Remember, any trip under 30 minutes is free– and yes you can simply dock a bike and check out a new one for another 30 minutes of charge-free cycling.

Bike-share bikes are NOT intended for long trips and the pricing system reflects this. For example, using a Bay Area Bike Share bike for an hour and a half before returning it to a station, will cost you $12 in addition to your membership fee. Any trip under 30 minutes, however, is completely free after membership fee is paid.
So what are bike share bikes good for? Going to meetings or grabbing a bite to eat on your lunch break; cycling from a BART station to your office (at the moment, most downtown San Francisco BART stations have bike share stations nearby); replacing bus trips under three miles with a bike ride; avoiding having to bring your own bike on BART; the infamous last-mile… The possibilities are many, and as long as your journey takes less than 30 minutes (keep in mind, at a “no sweat” pace, one can easily cover at least three miles on a bicycle), using a Bay Area Bike Share bicycle is free. Because of this structuring, getting an annual membership is particularly enticing as it can save you money, especially if you use it to replace short bus trips and cab rides when getting around congested parts of San Francisco.
So what do you think– are you ready to take a Bay Area Bike Share bicycle for a spin?
For additional information, check out Bay Area Bike Share’s Frequently Asked Questions or Contact page. And if you are on social media, feel free to check out Bay Area Bike Share on TwitterFacebook, Tumblr or Instagram.
*While Bay Area Bike Share is not the first bike share system to launch in California, it is by far the largest and is also distinguished in that it is regional and not confined to a single city, integrating the system well with our existing public transportation network and commuter routes.

New Commuting Trend: Bike Trains


Bike commuting– much safer and pleasant when there’s company. Photo credit: Walk Eagle Rock

Los Angeles has been making headlines in recent years because of the region’s willingness to invest in alternatives to the automobile, particularly in bringing back an efficient and convenient train system. However, it now appears that another form of commuter train has been built… bike trains!

What are bike trains? The founders of LA Bike Trains, the organization spearheading the concept, put together this concise explanation:

We provide a rolling party along select routes run by Conductors – experienced urban cyclists – to harness the safety of riding in a group while kicking it up a notch by making the ride a fun social experience.  And it’s totally free!
All you need to do is submit your email, cell phone number and the route that you’re interested in. If you don’t see a route that works for you – suggest one and if you’re interested in leading a Bike Train as a Conductor – let us know.

In essence, the bike train concept brings you together with those people you see bicycling during your bike commute, the ones you see and think to yourself , “Wouldn’t it be cool if we ride together as a group? It would be safer and more fun to ride with other people!”
At the moment, Los Angeles has ten different bike train routes scattered across the region, all of which have their own “conductor” leading particular routes with specific departure times. LA Bike Trains even offers commuter surveys to gather input to figure out what routes throughout the county are in high demand.
The hopes of the LA Bike Trains founders are that by offering a more comfortable experience, bicycling can be made more accessible by those intimidated by the thought of cycling to work, and so far, the concept has received positive feedback.
For more information on LA Bike Trains, visit their websitecheck them out on twitter (and the hashtag #LABikeTrain) or see their facebook page.

Have You Been Enjoying A Better Ride? (2013)

Gillig Suburban Inaugural 11.7.13
New AC Transit bus, the “Gillig Suburban,” offers riders free wifi. Photo credit: AC Transit

In March AC Transit began phasing in a new line of buses built by Bay Area based company Gillig to replace some of the fleet’s older models. In August, AC Transit introduced the New Flyer 60’ articulated buses, which feature 52 seats (and additional room for standing) to handle demand along its most heavily traveled routes (click here to check out the specs of the bus).
Now, as of November 8th, AC Transit has unveiled yet another type of bus to improve service quality for riders, one geared to to accommodate long distance commuters, called the “Gillig Suburban.” These buses have the following features:

Gillig Suburban Inaugural 11.7.13
With seats like that, riding the Gillig Suburban bus could make for a very relaxing commute. Photo credit: AC Transit

  • Passenger-controlled overhead reading lamps
  • High-backed cushioned seats
  • Overhead luggage racks
  • Free wifi

All three new models of buses are part of AC Transit’s “A Better Ride” effort to make bus travel more pleasant and efficient. If you have ridden any of the new types of buses, AC Transit encourages you to provide feedback by sending an email to
To keep up with the latest news from AC Transit, check out the agency on facebook, twitter, youtube, or sign up to receive their e-newsletters 

Google Maps Transit Directions Move In RIght Direction

A major update is in the works for Google’s Maps relative to transit directions could be very exciting. As noted on Human Transit, key changes are being made to Google’s transit directions, including:

  • Offering alternatives based on frequency of transit lines
  • Mapping other transit lines in the area along one’s route
  • Accounting for lines whose paths duplicate service over a section of a trip

Imagine using Google Maps for transit to map your transit trip. Under the current version of Google Maps, you may routed to a bus line that includes a transfer to a bus line that only runs every 30 minutes, because it makes for the “shortest” trip since you’ll only have to wait a minute to catch it.  It could be you miss that bus by a minute due to an unexpected delay and suddenly find yourself waiting a half hour until the next bus arrives. In the updated Google Maps directions, you will be also be shown nearby transit lines that, while they may be a little further away from your transfer point, run more frequently and thus are more reliable and convenient in catching to reach your destination on time. In short, Google will show a more complete menu of transit possibilities, which will show more realistic and reliable routes and leave greater options for users.
To learn about other Google Maps direction updates, see the below video:

Video credit: Google Maps
For more insightful commentary on the coming Google Maps transit updates, be sure to check out Seattle Transit Blog and Human Transit.

San Francisco Bike Share Is On The Way! (2013)

Melbourne Bike Share - first day
A bike-share dock in Melbourne, Australia. Photo credit: Gavin Anderson
This past month you may have heard about New York City’s historic bike-share launch. New York’s bike-share program continues to incite enthusiasm and excitement, not just for the locals using the system, but for other cities interested in similar bike-share schemes. Here in California one can’t help but to wonder– when will the bike-friendly Bay Area get to enjoy bike-sharing? After all, the Southern Californian city of Anaheim already has bike-sharing (though currently on a very small scale).  Well, worry not, bike-sharing could be coming to San Francisco and the Bay Area as early as this summer! The Huffington Post reports:

San Francisco is already one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country, but it’s about to get even more pedal power when the city’s bike sharing program rolls out this August.
Run by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, in conjunction with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and other local government groups, the $7 million bike sharing program will be a one- to two-year pilot effort to determine how effective bike sharing is as a method of reducing private automobile traffic and the pollution that comes with it.

The SF bike sharing pilot will be studied for its effectiveness in shifting people out of their cars.  It is easy to imagine bike-share being helpful as a means to compliment BART trips and generally help foster multi-modal travel  and the replacement for single-occupant vehicle commute trips.  The system will start with 700 bikes and 70 bike-share stations but if successful, the pilo could expand to as many as 10,000 bikes throughout the Bay Area (which would make it tied for the largest bike-share system in America).
To get an idea of how bike-share generally operates in North America, check out this video produced for D.C.’s Capital Bike-Share program

Video credit: NACTOfilms

For more details about the Bay Area’s approaching bike-share program, head over to SF.Streetsblog.

How Do You Actually Get Commuter Benefits?

Bike to Work Day at the Mid Market Energizer Station
Bike to Work Day 2010 in San Francisco. Photo credit: Bay Area Fair Trade Coalition
In an earlier post here at 511 Contra Costa we noted that commuter benefits for vanpooling and public transportation had been restored through the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (HR 8) to be on par with the qualified parking benefit

For the 2013 calendar year:

  • up to $245 per employee withholding per month for vanpool and all public transportation
  • up to $245 per employee withholding per month for qualified parking, or
  • up to $490 per employee withholding per month for both public transportation and qualified parking

This is great news but how does one go about setting aside pre-tax income for a commute benefit? Here are some steps you can take to get started.
First, make sure you’re using a qualifying commute alternative. The benefit is available to commuters who commute to work in a vanpool, use public transit, or pay for qualified parking. (Carpooling does not currently qualify for pre-tax benefits.)
Next, ask your employer if commuter tax benefits are offered; typically Human Resources or Benefits department will know.  If your employer isn’t aware of the benefit, share the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits  with them.
Step three is to set up a payroll withholding for the qualified commute benefit you use. Keep in mind, your employer must have this benefit set up as a pre-tax withholding option in the payroll system.
There is also a benefit for commuting by bicycle though the process is slightly different because unlike other pre-tax commuter benefits the bicycle benefit cannot be withheld from your pay.  See the full tax code here
Note: Withe the passage of California Senate Bill 1339, employers in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Are with 50 ore more employees will be required to offer some sort of commuter benefit – one of the options is to offer employees to withhold pre-tax income for vanpooling, transit or qualified parking.  Look for more information on the roll-out of this bill in summer of  2013.  The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission are developing the Rule.

Bikes on BART in March (2013)

Bikes on Bart Pilot Aug. 3, 2012
Bikes on BART during August’s “Bike Friday”. Photo Credit: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Remember when BART experimented with allowing bicycles on trains during Friday rush hour in August, known as “Bike Friday?” Following the mostly positive, encouraging feedback the agency received  during that test run BART is ready to try it again. A second phase of “bikes on board” testing will occur during the week of Monday, March 18 through Friday, March 22, 2012.
To clarify, during this upcoming phase bicycles will be allowed in all stations and on all trains all day during the test week. The standing policy which limits bicycle access to BART during commute hours will not be enforced.
For additional details head over to BART and see the full announcement. Or for a refresher of what Bike Friday was like, check out the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s flickr set covering that test run.

BART Proposes Capacity Improvements (2013)

BART rebuild
Proposed improvements would allow riders to board and exit on both sides of the train! Image via BART
There’s been no shortage of BART news lately here at 511 Contra Costa– from improved signage, to new (and old) extensions under construction, to experiments with allowing bikes on during rush hour and of course BART’s 40th birthday.
The latest word comes to us via the SF Gate– that BART is proposing rebuilding two of system’s busiest stations to include new tunnels, elevators and extra platforms that will accommodate projected capacity demands in the future. The SF Gate writes:

The rebuilding of the Embarcadero and Montgomery Street stations would require tearing out the existing walls, installing new platforms, boring additional tunnels for staircases, and putting in extra elevators.

For added safety, the new platforms would have automated sliding glass doors that would open when the trains arrive.

The projects, in total, could take well over five years to complete.

Inspiring Look LA's Changing Transportation Priorities (2013)

The new normal? A family bicycling on downtown Los Angeles’s green bike lane. Photo credit: Walk Eagle Rock
The day is coming when we will no longer be able to pick on Los Angeles for its addiction to the automobile; the city known for its traffic jams and hostile streets has been reversing this image in its shifting transportation priorities.
Take for example the video below released by the Mayor’s Office– “LA Back on Track“.

In it, several bold comments are made by government officials that reflect the culture change taking place in the region. Art Leahy, Metro CEO, acknowledges the reality the city faces, stating,
“LA is trying to cope with a history of being auto-dominated. We’re approaching the end of the era of cheap fuel, we have a greenhouse gas problem, global warming, we have congestion…”
However, with ridership at its highest since World War II, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky points out that Los Angeles County is in a unique time,
“We are living in the golden age of rapid transit infrastructure construction in the city of Los Angeles and the county of Los Angeles.”
But perhaps most telling is a comment made by Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa,
“We can’t keep this addiction going on single passenger automobiles, we have to have alternatives.”
The video also points to visible evidence of advancements towards a new, less car-oriented Los Angeles such as: the implementation of several new rail lines and carpool lanes; the addition of dozens of new bike lanes; hosting a 10-mile long block party on streets temporarily closed to cars in the heart of Los Angeles; and making real-time bus waits accessible on cellphones. Regular Angelenos  comment on how these transportation advancements are reducing dependence on driving and making life easier.
Yet, impressive as the video is, it doesn’t even cover the full extent of the transformation Los Angeles is undergoing. In a few months the city will kick off its latest transportation game-changer– a bike-share program that will eventually feature 4,000 bicycles available to the public to rent, the second largest of its kind planned in the country.
Los Angeles has long struggled with a car-centric transportation system but the problems it faces are not unique. As more cities move towards sustainable futures, Los Angeles may soon serve as a model of how to successfully reduce dependence on driving.

Are You HOV Eligible? (2013)

(If in doubt, check the DMV website.)
With so many fuel efficient motor vehicles on the market these days it’s difficult to keep track of which has what special technology to help you save gas. However with notorious Bay Area traffic, perhaps more important to keep track of here– which ones qualify for use of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes by single occupant vehicles ?
California law allows single-occupant use of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOVs) lanes by certain qualifying clean alternative fuel vehicles however  they require a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Unfortunately the yellow stickers commuters may have first grown accustomed to a few years are no longer valid– that program ended on 7/1/2011 and vehicles that qualified for the yellow stickers do not qualify for any other type of decals. The two types of stickers that are currently being distributed are (Via CA–DMV):

White Clean Air Vehicle Stickers are available to an unlimited number of qualifying Federal Inherently Low Emission Vehicles (ILEVs). Cars that meet these requirements are typically certified pure zero emission vehicles (100% battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell) and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. The expiration date for the white stickers has been extended to January 1, 2015.
Green Clean Air Vehicle Stickers are available to the first 40,000 applicants that purchase or lease cars meeting California’s Enhanced Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (AT PZEV) requirement.

To see a full list of which cars are eligible for HOV lane use, head over to the CA-DMV.

(Note: The CA-DMV notes the 2012 and 2013 Chevy Volt are eligible for HOV lane use  sticker if purchased with Low Emission Package– in California the Chevy Volt comes standard with the Low Emission Package so no additional purchase is needed to qualify for the sticker.)

Bay Area Leads In Bike Commuting (2013)

bike arc on display
Creative bike parking in Palo Alto, where about 10% of commutes are by bike. Photo credit: Adam Fagen
Bicycling accounts for roughly 0.5% of commuting on the national level, but if you feel like you see more bikes on your commute around here it could be because California, and more specifically the Bay Area, leads the nation in bicycle commuting as demonstrated by the latest Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Perhaps as no surprise, Davis is the top bicycling city, where 16% of commutes are by bicycle, followed by Palo Alto where bicycles make up 10% of commutes. Boulder, Colorado claims the number three spot with a 9.6% bicycle commute mode-share but the Bay Area is back at number four with Berkeley, where approximately 8.8% of commutes are done by bicycle.
Other Bay Area cities with significant bicycle commute mode-shares include Mountain View, San Francisco and Oakland, with 6.1%, 3.4%, 3% commute mode-shares, respectively.
Having the Bay Area lead in bicycle commuting is great news, and not just for the environment or cyclists. When more people cycle or take public transit everyone benefits in traffic as Good Magazine conveyed last year in a clever 1 minute video, illustrating that even  a small modal shift away from driving can vastly reduce unwanted congestion.

Tri Delta Transit 2012 CommuterPass Promo

Update: All passes have been distributed and Tri Delta Transit and 511 Contra Costa are no longer accepting applications for CommuterPass™.

Do you commute from or within Eastern Contra Costa County by car? If you do, and you’d like some financial relief and a more relaxing commute, Tri Delta Transit’s CommuterPass promo may be for you!

CommuterPass is a Tri Delta Transit trial program which offers free public bus passes to East Contra Costa County residents as a means of encouraging bus use for commuting. For those that don’t know, Tri Delta Transit offers an array of services that can help popular commutes, including:

  • 13 daily bus routes serving East Contra Costa County
  • 12 routes serving BART
  • Limited-stop express service between Brentwood and BART

To partake in the promotion, just apply and you could receive a free 20-day bus pass! CommuterPass applications are available online at Tri Delta Transit and over 12,000 applications will be distributed through the mail. Applications are also available from Tri Delta Transit’s administrative office by calling (925) 754-6622.
Interested but not sure if transit is convenient and compatible with your commute, check out Tri Delta Transit’s trip planner. For those that don’t have a bus stop close to home, Park & Ride lots may be for you.

But don’t wait to act, the promotion will end December 31, 2012!

New Bay Area Commuter Benefit Policy

Berkeley Bike Lane

With S.B. 1339 passed, are you more likely to pedal as part of your commute?
Photo credit:  Carrie Cizauskas

In September 2012, Governor Brown passed into law S.B. 1339 – legislation that allows the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to implement a region-wide Bay Area commuter policy benefiting employees who work at least 20 hours per week for an employer with 50 or more full-time employees in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. The purpose of the legislation is to encourage commuting by means other than single passenger automobile travel.
While some Bay Area cities already have commuter benefit policies to encourage the use of public transit or bicycling, the passage of S.B. 1339 will require select employers to offer one of the following commute benefits:

  • The option to pay for transit, vanpooling or bicycling expenses with pre-tax dollars, as allowed by IRS Code 132(f) – the Transportation Fringe Benefit
  • A transit or vanpool subsidy of at least $75 per month in 2013 and adjusted annually for inflation thereafter
  • Access to a free shuttle or vanpool operated by or for the employer
  • A customized alternative program by the employer that provides similar benefits in reducing single-occupant vehicles and is approved by MTC or BAAQMD

Read the S.B 1339 FAQs.
Keep your company connected to the latest S.B. 1339 information by signing up for our newsletter.

Talk for Families on How to Travel Greener @ Pleasant Hill Library

511 Contra Costa will be leading a talk for families at the Pleasant Hill Library on Wednesday October 14 at 7pm. Stop by to learn how you and your family can make the journey to and from school greener. You’ll receive a kid-friendly book and activity wheel that’ll show you how a green commute can be both fun and easy.
In the mean time, don’t forget about Walk to School Day!