San Diego bike-share: Bumps in the road


There's no better example than New York City, where the nation's largest bike-share program is crashing. Last week, New York's mayor denied Citi Bike's request for a multi-million dollar bailout. That has prompted KUSI News to ask again about avoiding mistakes made by other cities to the Florida contractor hired to run San Diego's soon-to-be unveiled bike-share.
About a year after its heavily, and almost hysterically, hyped launch, Citi Bike is going belly-up in the Big Apple. Turns out it didn't pay for itself after all. Not enough riders, too many costly maintenance problems. And while programs in other cities – Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and beyond – survive with public subsidies, New York's privately-funded CitiBank-sponsored program is looking for tens of millions of dollars to keep rolling. But that can't happen here in San Diego, right?
“Ours is unique in the sense that we have no public investment,” said City Council President Todd Gloria. “This is purely a private enterprise, and we actually expect to make money off of this. Unlike other cities, who have either provided public subsidies, even asking for public money, we are not putting in any money. And it's our hope and expectation to make money. “
But what if San Diego's partner, Deco-Bike of Miami, Florida – whose three bike-share systems in Florida cities, are, by many measures, struggling and who is asking the city of Miami Beach for help – doesn't make money?
“Any number of private entities may come and ask for assistance. I mean, groups like the San Diego Opera, the San Diego Chargers. Many folks come and they ask for assistance; it doesn't mean the City Council has to provide it. If, in the unlikely event, that the equipment doesn't work, we simply will have to make sure that the equipment is removed.”
Jake Russell of Surf Monkey Bikes in Pacific Beach says rentals are a big part of business.
“We give them a map, provided by SANDAG. We're on the bike path, we get a lot of play here.”
Russell and other San Diego bike shop owners says the city is inviting out-of-state competition into their marketplace.
“All you can look at is what's happened in the past – where Deco-Bike's gone, whether they're in business now or some of the other bike-share programs have gone in. And look what has happened to other bike shops: they've put them out of business.”
In fact, KUSI has discovered Deco-Bike is struggling to stay in business in Miami Beach, where it is asking the city for a contract waiver, allowing it to sell advertising on city property. That, after years of being peppered with complaints about missing or broken-down bikes, over-charges and bad customer service.
“Deco-Bike hasn't flinched yet,” said Bill Harris of the San Diego Transportation Department. “They've had some start up issues, to be sure.”
Even the man who probably knows more about San Diego's bike-share program than anybody says he's not sure it'll work. But he also says he is sure taxpayers will be protected if it doesn't.
“We have invested interest into maintaining our right of way, of making sure what happens in our right of way is good for everybody involved. We want to protect the citizens of San Diego, we want to protect the residents that live near stations, and we want to protect the bicycle program. So the contract that we got with Deco-Bike weighs out all of these protections; they're building new equipment that is going to be San Diego specific. They've built a new bike -San Diego specific. They've got a new mechanism that is going to let the people take the bikes in and out. It's all very San Diego specific, all called out in the contract for the performance standards that we want.”

If preliminary indicators are true and signs of things to come, we're not looking good. A three month delay delivering bikes and racks, the city is already losing out on $60-$80,000 in revenue this summer. Failing to replace $60,000 a month, the city will be losing more when it takes out parking meters to make way for bike stations. Not a good pretense. So far, Deco-Bike is sputtering.


Categories: KUSI