The bike share program mirrors similar ones in Paris, London, Boston, Washington D.C., and one launched in New York City earlier this month, said Karen Schkolnick, grants program manager for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
"We're excited about how this will work as a mobility solution," Schkolnick said.
The $7 million program is set to start in August with about 700 seven-speed, unisex bikes made by Montreal-based Public Bike System Company and equipment repairs to be handled by Alta Bike Share, of Portland, Ore., Schkolnick said.
The San Francisco-based air district is partnering with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose to operate the program in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, Schkolnick said.
Bike sharing has been widely used in Europe for decades and is beginning to make inroads in America, she said.
The approach has the potential to work in the Bay Area because many transit venues are only about five minutes from where people need to get, an easy reach by bike, Schkolnick said.
The problem is that many who drive to work -- for instance people employed at business campuses in Mountain View - do not take mass transit such as VTA's light-rail vehicles because it does not stop close enough to their jobs, Schkolnick said.
The bike ride to and from work could get them to take the train and drive fewer miles in their cars and reduce auto traffic and air pollution, Schkolnick said.
"We call it the last mile solution," Schkolnick said. "As folks learn about bike sharing, and try it, it could increase their reliance on mass transit instead of driving a mile or two."
Bikes would be stored in outdoor locked racks at Caltrain stations in San Francisco, Redwood City, Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose specifically for trips of 30 minutes or less to connect to other docking locations in the cities.
To start off, 35 of the docking stations would be dispersed in San Francisco, 10 in Redwood City, about 20 in San Jose and the rest in Palo Alto and Mountain View, Schkolnick said.
The agencies hope to increase the program to 1,000 bikes by next year and as many as 6,000 to 10,000 farther down the road, she said.
People getting off at or near a Caltrain station would pay to borrow a bike at a docking station, ride to another docking place close to their destination, drop off the bike and then use another one for the ride back.
Users, who must be 18 or older, can become members for a day or more for an as-yet-undetermined fee, and can use their credit or debit cards at terminals at docking stations to release the bikes, Schkolnick said.
The normal length of use for a bike is 30 minutes but riders can pay to use them for longer periods.
The bikes are sturdy, with adjustable seats and baskets for storage, Schkolnick said.
Prospective riders would have to sign a user agreement and would be held liable for the cost of the bike if they failed to return it, Schkolnick said.