Electric bike-sharing will be coming in the spring of 2014 to Berkeley. Photo: Credit: Self Trading/Creative Commons
Electric bike-sharing will be coming in the spring of 2014 to Berkeley. Photo: Credit: Self Trading/Creative Commons

Electric bikes will soon be easier to rent in Berkeley.

City CarShare, the organization that lets members use cars for cheap for short periods of time, is launching a pilot electric bike-sharing program in Berkeley and San Francisco next spring.

Modeled on the car-sharing system, members will be able to use 32 electric bikes from about eight different places around Berkeley. People will be able to reserve bikes online, with a mobile app, or by telephone. But unlike the bike-sharing program that’s so popular in New York and Paris, the bikes can’t be dropped off just anywhere. They must be returned to the place from where they were rented.

Prices haven’t been set yet, but Dederick Roper, the electric bike-share program manager for City CarShare, thinks bikes will rent for $2-$3 an hour. There won’t be any mileage fees. A number of the bikes will be cargo bikes, or will have a trailer attached.

Electric bikes have a small motor on them that can be turned on when going up a hill or when lugging packages. Bikes can reach speeds of 20 mph. People who commute may prefer electric bikes because they won’t work up a sweat on the way to work, said Roper. They can also work well for people with disabilities.

“We see electric bikes opening biking to a lot more people,” said Roper.

The Federal Highway Administration is giving City CarShare a $740,000 grant to launch the program in Berkeley and San Francisco. In total, there were 90 bikes spread out over 25 locations.

The FHWA is also giving a similar grant to UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center to evaluate how the bikes are used and how they mesh with the City CarShare program. Researchers will examine the cost effectiveness, impacts on emission, and how the availability of the bikes affects people’s transportation habits, according to Susan Shaheen, the co-director of the research center.

“We are interested in testing e-bikes to understand how they might influence trip-making choices. Given the hilly terrain of San Francisco and some of Berkeley, we think the e-bike might be an attractive option to many, particularly when transporting cargo,” she said.

There will be rental locations in downtown Berkeley, and the north and south sides of campus, said Shaheen.

The pilot program will run until 2018. The make of bike has not yet been selected, said Roper.

In related news, City CarShare is planning to increase the number of electric cars available to rent in Berkeley. The program just contracted with the city to install charging stations in a number of city-owned parking garages. City CarShare will soon offer plug-in Priuses and Chevy Volts to members.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...