E-Lockers Can Help Curb Bike Theft at Metro Stations

A very sad moment  for many cyclists: finding one's locked bike has been stolen. Photos by Jonathan Weiss
A very sad moment for many cyclists: finding one's locked bike has been stolen. Photos by Jonathan Weiss

In January, when my bicycle was stolen from my local Expo station, I realized that the first mile/last mile part of my commute would no longer be a five-minute bike ride. Instead, it would be a fifteen-minute walk. Since it’s hit or miss whether my bike will be there when I return, I nearly always take the extra ten minutes and walk. Occasionally, I’ll take the bike with me on the train.

But my son is a college student – one who didn’t bug his parents for a driver’s license because the Streetsblog mantra has been ingrained in him since he was in diapers. For him, adding ten minutes (each way) to an already hour-long, two-train commute really registers. And stowing the bike on a crowded train and moving it between trains through a crowded station? Not a great option.

Tempting fate, I suggested my son bike to the station on a less desirable bike. Then, three weeks into the fall semester, it was stolen from the station. (Fate won as usual. And who was I to measure bike desire?)

Expo Line bike thieves cut through this sturdy U-lock
Expo Line bike thieves cut through this sturdy U-lock

I’m guessing that theft from train station racks is worse than other places. Unlike at a local market, for example, a bike at a train station is a sitting duck. Thieves know you’re gone for a while. And, for the daily commuter, the truly dedicated thief can clock you and your bike. Hindsight.

So why not use a Metro bike locker? It wasn’t until we had a train running nearby that I realized how unavailable Metro’s bike lockers are. At my local Westwood/Rancho Park station, eight lockers are reserved – whether in use or not – all day, every day, for six months at a time, by eight individuals.  

Here are the locker numbers for my immediate area:

  • 8 leased lockers at Palms with 76 wait-listed;
  • 8 leased lockers at Westwood/Rancho Park with 52 wait-listed;
  • 16 leased lockers at Expo Sepulveda with 55 wait-listed.

That’s 32 winners and 183 losers. And these are just the “losers” who bothered to get on the waiting list.

Metro’s bike lockers are like private garages for bikes. People essentially lease them for $24 for six months. And they can use the lockers as much – or as little – as they want. The $50 key deposit aside, that’s half the price of a good lock. (I now know lock pricing and ratings very well.) During that lease, each of those eight lockers is off the market for the night shift janitor who could be sharing it with the day shift nanny. And (guessing here) the leased lockers are more likely going to locals (predominantly homeowners around here) than to day trippers who want to leave their bike and hop a bus – say, to UCLA.

What to do?  More enforcement?  That might help. Cameras actually pointing at the bikes?  Maybe good, too. But, as the desk officer told me when I filed a police report, arresting bike thieves is like whack-a-mole: someone will fill his spot.

So I returned to the idea that Streetsblog S.F. Editor Roger Rudick shared with me after the first theft: e-lockers (sometimes spelled eLockers.) Across California and beyond, from big systems (BART) to small (UCLA) e-lockers work.  

E-lockers have to be turned over – no days-long rentals, or the user is blocked. According to e-locker vendor Bikelink, “Usage data indicates BikeLink serves five to seven times as many cyclists in a year compared to non-shared systems.” That sounds more equitable to me: five to seven times more the winners! (Yes, I know I’m not counting the current lessees who are out on the market, but that’s a rounding error.)  

Will e-lockers cut theft, encourage first/last mile options, make room for more people on the trains (when we don’t have to bring a bike with us for fear of losing it), increase locker revenue, free police from having to take my semi-regular theft reports?  These are all good questions I’m not qualified to answer.

But I can confidently say this: the status quo is not working – except maybe for eight people in Rancho Park.  

A note about myself. I’m admittedly privileged. Among other things, I choose to ride – I don’t have to. And I can replace my bikes when they’re stolen without flinching (too much). Plus, a local realtor friend gave us a bike (one of the fleet they use as advertising/promotion), so the bike-to-train commute is solved for my son – yet another privilege.

Jonathan Weiss practices law, lives in Cheviot Hills, and served as an appointed representative to the L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee between 2009 and 2016. He is also a boardmember of Streetsblog L.A.’s parent nonprofit, the California Streets Initiative.

  • com63

    They should have a rule that only half of the lockers can be leased and the others are first come first served. Also, they should place bike lockers in parking spaces until there is no more waitlist.

  • With Cyc-lok SMART Lockers they’re multiuser, not site nor user specific and can be booked and paid for via our app. Also, alarmed and monitored 24/7. It’s pay as you go on demand, short term bike parking, available to ALL cyclists.

  • Josh Young

    How are your lockers monitored 24/7?

  • Hi Josh, our lockers are cloud based so we have a backend management dashboard to remotely monitor and for access. The units are also alarmed so if a locker is tampered with it sends a message back to base and notifies the locker user. There is also an external alarm to scare off any thieves. check us out on http://www.cyc-lok.ie. We ship and install worldwide.;-)

  • Jack Moreau

    Heck yes to this!

  • ExpoRider

    Jonathan: Please note that the status quo isn’t working very well for the “eight people in Rancho Park” and other bike locker users along the Expo Line. I have a bike locker at the Culver City station, and I know that there have been several break-ins in the past few months where Metro bike lockers have been broken into and the bikes have been stolen. I know for a fact that a bike was stolen from the locker immediately next to mine a few weeks ago. Metro is aware of this problem and has advised us not to use our bike lockers at night and on weekends.
    FYI: I was on the waiting list for over one year before I was granted use of my bike locker almost three years ago. But the waiting list was much shorter back then.

  • ExpoRider

    Your first suggestion is noble, but it won’t work with the current bike locker infrastructure, since each locker has only one key.
    Your second suggestion is right on! Active transportation choices should be given priority over drive access. Metro can probably fit 3-4 bike lockers into each parking space in their parking lots. Metro should reallocate their resources to purchase and install as many bike lockers as are necessary to satisfy the demand on the waiting lists.

  • Chris Drongers

    Big bike cages housing up to forty bikes, the cage overlooked by train station closed-circuit tv monitoring, the locker secured by an e-lock activated by your e-pass train&bus ticket and each bike inside padlocked to its rack by the owner work well in Perth and Brisbane. Potentially 40 bikes in the space for three cars with a first come, first served system. Your transit operator would be mad not to supply as many cages as needed.

  • jcovarru

    I would love single-day lockers at Wardlow on the Blue Line. I’ve been on the waitlist for a locker for years. I would never leave my bike at that station all day, secured only by a chain. It would be stripped down to the frame on day one, if not stolen outright.

  • Jonathan Weiss

    Update: Metro Board members Mike Bonin, Hilda Solis and Robert Garcia have made a “Secure Bike Parking at Metro Stations” motion which will be considered by the Metro Board this Thursday (9/27) directing the CEO to:

    A. inventory existing secure bike parking facilities;
    B. assess demand for additional secure bike parking, including wait lists for bike lockers, utilization of existing bike racks, reports of bike theft, and the availability of alternative first/last mile options, such as bike share;
    C. evaluate alternative rental models for bike lockers used by other transit agencies, including hourly or daily rentals;
    D. identify high-demand locations that could be good candidates for future
    Bike Hubs;
    E. evaluate interim steps that can be taken to deter theft at existing bike parking, such as lighting, surveillance cameras, targeted enforcement, etc.; and
    F. report back to the Board with the above information in February 2019.

    The motion is included with the full agenda here: https://boardagendas.metro.net/event/regular-board-meeting-271fd82a955f/ (Item 22.1)

    THANKS to each of them for serving Metro’s customers.

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