December 4 – San Diego Union Tribune – David Garrick reports – The city of San Diego may be left out of a trend sweeping the region where people can use smartphones to rent bikes for short trips and then leave them anywhere that’s convenient.
Environmentalists and bicycling advocates hail this type of bike sharing as a superior option to bikes that consumers must rent and return to docking stations, because they are cheaper and allow people to go exactly where they want to go.
Advocates say dockless bikes, where the rear wheel locks in place when a consumer is done using it, could help San Diego meet the goals of increasing bike and transit use called for in the city’s ambitious climate action plan
Imperial Beach and National City began allowing dockless bikes this fall, the Coronado City Council is scheduled to consider allowing them on Tuesday and local college campuses are expected to announce dockless bike deals soon.
But San Diego, by far the largest market in the region, might be prevented from allowing dockless bikes because of the city’s exclusive deal through 2023 with docked bike sharing provider DecoBike, a city spokeswoman said on Friday.
San Diego is the only city in the region facing this kind of conflict because it’s the only city with a docked bike sharing program, which has struggled to meet its ridership goals since it was launched in early 2015.
Dockless bike companies contend the city’s deal with Florida-based DecoBike doesn’t prevent separate deals with dockless providers, primarily because it’s a different kind of service.
But the city spokeswoman, Katie Keach, noted that the city’s contract with DecoBike says “the city shall work with and support DecoBike’s efforts to market and increase ridership of the Bikesharing System.”
She suggested that could be a problem.
“The negotiation of an agreement for a dockless bike share system that would be competitive to DecoBike would be inconsistent with this obligation,” Keach said.
Keach said city officials have asked City Attorney Mara Elliott to determine what the city’s obligations are, leaving some potential wiggle room.
“The issue we do not yet have clarity on is whether there are things that the city could do to allow dockless bike sharing that would not violate the contract and would be consistent with our obligations,” she said. “The city is interested in increasing the people who use bicycles for commuting and other transportation options.”
That goal should prompt the city to find a way to allow dockless bike sharing, said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign and the primary author of the city’s climate action plan.
“I do think we need more alternatives because DecoBike alone is not getting us where we need to be,” Capretz said. “The model of being able to see a bike in many different places and not have to find a station could get us to a tipping point we haven’t reached. It’s proven successful in the cities we’ve looked at.”
The climate action plan requires the number of people bicycling to work in the city’s densely populated neighborhoods to increase from about 2 percent now to 6 percent by 2020 and then to 18 percent by 2035.
Capretz said it’s crucial for San Diego to remain flexible in a world changing rapidly because of technological advances.
“The point of the climate plan is to continually assess and evolve,” she said. “If one approach isn’t working, we need to find another one.”
Dockless bike sharing began in Asia about two years when technology was created allowing bikes to essentially lock themselves, eliminating the need for bikes to be stored in dock stations.
The two leading companies in the U.S., LimeBike and Spin, launched their services this year and have rapidly expanded in just a few months.
They charge $1 for half an hour of use, compared to the $5 per half hour charged by DecoBike.
James Moore, Spin’s head of market growth, said a key factor in the lower prices is eliminating the need to maintain and operate the docking stations.
Spin, which uses orange bikes, is in 14 markets after launching this July in Seattle.
LimeBike, which uses green bikes and started in June in North Carolina, now offers service in 30 cities across the nation. That includes National City, where service began last month, and Imperial Beach, where service began in September.
“It’s been really positive for our city,” Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina said. “We thought it would be much more about tourists, but it’s been adopted by residents. They’ve exposed a real need in the community for dockless bike share.”
Some merchants initially complained about LimeBikes being strewn about the city’s commercial areas, but Dedina said the company quickly stepped up efforts to gather bikes placed in inappropriate spots.
San Diego Councilman David Alvarez said this week that positive results in neighboring cities have made him want San Diego to allow dockless bike sharing. In addition to encouraging more people to bicycle, the service may also increase use of transit, he said.
“Last weekend I saw dockless bikes parked at six different bus stations in National City, which indicated to me people are using those bikes and then jumping on transit,” Alvarez said. “I see this as a very new opportunity that wasn’t on the radar a year ago — or maybe even six months ago. I hope we find a way that this can work in San Diego.”
Alvarez said the DecoBike system doesn’t meet the needs of his South Bay constituents because there are no docking stations there.
Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said he wishes the new technology existed four years ago before San Diego made its deal with DecoBike.
“This new technology allows more flexibility and less challenges with locating docking stations,” he said. “It makes it way more convenient.”
But Hanshaw emphasized that dockless bike sharing won’t eliminate a major hurdle to increasing cycling: the lack of a comprehensive regional network of protected bike lanes to boost safety.
“I applaud cities for looking at these options, but the network has to be built out to really encourage more people to ride,” he said. “That’s what it really comes down to.”
Keach, the city spokeswoman, said she couldn’t offer any timetable for a city decision on whether it can legally allow dockless bike sharing.
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