Updated: Dec 26, 2019
When Frank Ching moved from his native Hong Kong to Honolulu, Hawaii at age 14, he didn’t speak or read a word of English. But that was just the beginning of his daily challenges.
He also had to contend with a broken left arm – a result of falling off the roof of the house where he lived with his family in Honolulu; a local high school that had no lockers available for mid-year transfer students; and a local bus transit system that totally baffled him with its unusual route- and stop-naming conventions. As a result, Ching spent the first four weeks of his second semester of high school walking to and from school – a distance of about three miles – awkwardly carrying his books with one arm and wishing he could figure out which bus to ride to which destination.
“That experience taught me two things,” said Ching. “Number one is that I have to learn to speak English better; number two is that good surface public transportation systems and mobility are very important to everyone.”
Alternative Transportation Advocate
Today, as the deputy executive officer, for countywide planning and development for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), Ching oversees all of Metro’s alternative mobility and transportation demand management programs.
His responsibilities include executive oversight of Metro’s transit-focused Park & Ride system, its countywide vanpool program, its three-county regional rideshare program, and the Metro Bike Share program.
“The Metro Bike Share program is what I call an innovative, sustainable active transportation program that moves people around,” said Ching. “It’s more than just bicycling. It’s part of our #mobility system and a natural extension of Metro’s public transit system.”
Launched in July, 2016 Metro Bike Share (MBS) is a partnership among Metro, the City of Los Angeles and the Port of Los Angeles. It is administered by Metro and operated by Bicycle Transit Systems. MBS uses a fleet of approximately 1,400 bikes – users have a choice of conventional bikes, “smart” bikes and e-bikes – and currently has about 93 stations in Downtown Los Angeles, Venice, West Los Angeles, North Hollywood and the Port of Los Angeles. The system currently provides about 2.6 million rides per year, the equivalent of removing approximately 100 cars from the streets of Los Angeles.
Discovering Public Transit
Ching’s first exposure to public transit and micro-mobility systems came while growing up on the densely populated streets of Hong Kong. He began riding a bicycle at age four. His father, a shipping and goods-movement executive, regularly took him for rides on the Hong Kong bus system – they always sat on the top level in the front row. And when the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway began operations in 1979, Ching and his father took a ride on the new subway during its first week of operation.
But it wasn’t until Ching’s family moved to Hawaii in 1988 seeking a freer, more democratic way of life that he really began to understand the role that micro-mobility systems play in making public transit work.
“Before I had my driver’s license, I had to ride my bike to a local bus stop, put my bike on the bus, take the bus as far as I could, then ride my bike the final distance to school,” said Ching. “My bike was my first mile/last mile connection to transit. It was my top choice.”
Hawaii also became his top choice for college. Ching earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Hawaii, Manoa.
“For me, being innovative is an attitude. It’s how you enhance your experience or streamline your work to deliver a better product.” -- Frank Ching
Putting Experience to Work
Ching parlayed his degree into multiple professional opportunities with private parking management companies, first in Honolulu, then in the San Francisco Bay area.
“Then one day about 12 years ago, I woke up and realized, ‘I’m tired of chasing money for my boss,’” said Ching. “I wanted to see if my experience and skill set could contribute to society, to my community.”
Before long, he had secured a position with the City of Santa Monica, Calif. as the head of parking operations for the entire city. During seven years in this position, Ching also earned an MBA in public administration from the Keller Graduate School of Management at DeVry University. In 2012, he moved to Metro to become the senior director of LA countywide parking management. He assumed his current position in fall 2017.
Connecting Bikes to Transit
One of the first things Ching did when he assumed responsibility for Metro’s fledgling bike-sharing program was to lower all of its fares.
“I wanted to make Metro Bike Share more accessible, more user-friendly, and more connected with #transit itself,” he said.
Under MBS’ original pricing structure, for example, riding a bike a short distance was nearly as expensive as calling Uber or Lyft for a ride. Ching recognized that MBS should operate like a public utility serving the needs of its customers, not a for-profit operation.
“We need to be a viable choice in Metro’s larger mobility system,” he emphasized. “Metro Bike Share is about moving people around, not just providing novelty rides.”
Sharing the Ride
Work days for Ching begin early in Redondo Beach, Calif., a coastal city of about 66,000 residents about 20 miles southwest of Downtown Los Angeles. After a cup of coffee and a scan of the daily headlines, Ching drives his 2014 BMW i3 electric vehicle to his local Metro transit station. There, he becomes a customer of his another one of his programs, Metro’s Park & Ride system. Two train transfers and 50 minutes later, he arrives at his office above Union Station near Downtown.
Ching and his staff of four spend their days monitoring the performance of the bike-sharing program, trouble-shooting network issues with Bicycle Transit Systems, and spot-checking feedback from its customers.
“Metro Bike Share (@metrobike) is probably the most social media-accessible program,” said Ching proudly. “We welcome any posting and take seriously any complaints. Complaints are the voices that tell me where we have to improve.”
Mobility Choices for All
Ching credits his success with Metro Bike Share to his upbringing and a series of bosses along the way who trusted him with responsibility and encouraged him to keep trying new things. And he’s proud of the work that his team is doing creating a micro-mobility system that works for everyone.
“Metro Bike Share is providing mobility choices for people who care passionately about what they do and how they get there,” he said. "Not every bus or every mobility option can deliver you to your destination. But with a bicycle, you can get there. That’s what motivates me to keep trying new things, and to keep valuing and improving the programs we’re delivering out there.”
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