Guest Opinion: Metro’s Proposal on Bike-share Heads in the Wrong Direction

The city of Santa Monica's bike-share system "Breeze" is expected to go live this fall.
The city of Santa Monica’s bike-share system “Breeze” is expected to go live this year. Photo via Santa Monica Next

Greater Los Angeles is about to join cities and regions around the world that have implemented bike-share programs. But, in our complicated world of 88 cities and a county, will we get it right?

Bike-share provides residents and visitors with easily accessible, shared, short-term bikes, making it easy to get from point A to point B, whether or not those points are within a single city.

Bike-share has proven successful throughout the world. Residents like bike-share and it’s good for business and tourism. Our environment benefits, too: it’s a carbon-free mobility alternative for congested cities. Bike-share extends the reach of rail, bus, walking and carpool trips, increasing the efficiency of our public transportation system.

Thoughtful, coordinated planning is essential to make sure Bike-share works. Bike-share systems commonly span multiple jurisdictions. In every corner of the world, this has meant building truly integrated systems that are interoperable and have common characteristics, no matter where the bike or docking station is located. So, if you are visiting a friend in Venice, and want to shop on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, then take the coming Metro Expo Line to Culver City, you should be able to do so by accessing one brand of bike and using one, easy to understand, payment system.

Seems obvious. But, Metro planners are advising their board to approve technology that is incompatible with systems already chosen and underway in Santa Monica, Long Beach and, likely to be implemented in other Westside cities. Departing from best practice, Metro is recommending a very different technology that will require two, parallel, systems. This is a bad deal for taxpayers and users alike. In a regional system that must mesh, Metro has failed to explain how these two systems would do so. Instead, they are deferring that discussion until after Metro selects a vendor which necessarily will be incompatible with existing Bike-share programs which are already operating in the region.

Metro staff seems comfortable that this means many, if not all, participant cities, including Los Angeles, would need to maintain two sets of “docks”, two different kinds of bicycles and two different fare structures and payment systems. The resulting customer experience will be confusing and an embarrassment to our region. Instead of taking advantage of momentum already created by local cities, Metro is imposing an older technology over locally preferred systems.

What happened?

In 2011, Santa Monica received a Metro Call for Projects grant of $2 million for planning and implementation of bike-share. This allowed Santa Monica to jump-start planning. Santa Monica is a great place to start bikeshare. The city has excelled at building a multidimensional bike infrastructure. It has robust tourism and a bike-friendly culture. In addition, the arrival of the Expo light rail in early 2016 is an opportunity to create new connections to stations that will help increase ridership.

Long after Santa Monica began its planning and implementation, Metro inexplicably began its own plan. Understanding that regional operability would be a key to success, Santa Monica used its seed money wisely and reached out regionally during its thorough process. Broad input was received and incorporated into a request for proposals that, again, was circulated widely for input. Ultimately, Santa Monica selected a cutting edge vendor who will begin deploying bikes in just a few weeks. Long Beach has adopted the same technology. West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and UCLA are not far behind.

If Metro insists on its own system, it should prioritize interoperability so proposing vendors must explain how they would achieve that key goal. Instead, the agency weighted its bid process by prioritizing other criteria. The result of Metro’s process was three finalists, none of whom will produce a product that is compatible with the technology which will be used by Santa Monica and other Westside cities.

This week, the Metro Board will vote on implementing a system that is incompatible with existing systems and will ensure inferior experience for all bike-share customers.

There is an alternative. The Metro Board should delay its decision until the Santa Monica-West Hollywood-UCLA-Long Beach-Beverly Hills system is up and running. If that roll-out is successful, Metro can build on an existing successful system. If that initiative falls on its face, Metro can implement a new regional alternative. The hope and expectation is that the public embraces the Santa Monica-West Hollywood-UCLA-Long Beach-Beverly Hills bike-share program and it functions as well as expected. If that is the case, Metro should focus on what is best for users and taxpayers and work collaboratively to integrate other communities into a singularly exciting new transportation option.

* * *

Assemblymember Richard Bloom is a member of the California State Assembly representing Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood and surrounding West L.A. areas. He is the former Mayor of Santa Monica.

Councilmember John Heilman is a member of the West Hollywood City Council and former Mayor.

Councilmember Dr. William Warren Brien is a member of the Beverly Hills City Council and former Mayor.

All three authors are former chairs of the Westside Cities Council of Governments, a regional agency focused on, among other things, on improving transportation on the Westside.

  • adfasdfdsf

    This reminds me of the TAP card rollout, great job Metro. Also LOL @ Beverly Hills bikeshare! Where the hell are you going to ride?

  • Bike Share Tech Gnostic

    To the authors:
    While your case for an integrated system is persuasive it seems to overlook that there must have been valid reasons behind Metro’s decision not to move forward with the companies you reference. Some reasons that come to mind include: their lack to deliver in current markets, their balance sheets, their pricing, their lack of operational experience with complex networks at scale, etc.

    Clearly, all of these possible red flags are more than just cause for not further delaying Metro’s plans for bike share. Santa Monica actually jump started their program and RFP (funds expiring) rather than waiting as requested by Metro.

    If Hoboken and its neighbors succeed in launching Next Bike then the New York metro will have 2 coexisting technologies (Jersey City opted for NYC system tech) similarly, the Bay Area Bike Share will not be covering every city in the region but only those that opt in.

    To say that taxpayers will be ill served by two competing operators nad technologies is misleading given the structure of the RFPs issued in both Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

  • guest

    Agreed. It’s borderline awkward that Richard Bloom continues to advocate so heavily for this particular vendor. I guess he thinks that Santa Monica should have the right to sole source the system for the region?

  • calwatch

    What Bloom, Heilman, and Brien saying is for bike share to wait two, three, even four years until a “successful” bike share can be implemented in Santa Monica. It should be noted that LA has already waited five years from when Bike Nation announced their program. (Although I found it funny that Bike Nation showed up to the pre-proposal conference.)

    Twenty percent of the criteria was given to the Regional Integration and Execution Plan. http://libraryarchives.metro.net/DB_Attachments/150615_Amendment_%232_RFP_No_PS11357_Metro_Bikeshare.pdf While expertise/experience and quality of equipment and software were higher priorities, that only makes sense. Does Assemblyman Bloom want unreliable systems such as Bike Nation’s failed Fullerton bike share, which is what he wants when he says that interoperability needs to be prioritized over “other criteria”?

    The Metro Board item clearly states the reasons why BTS was preferred over Santa Monica’s chosen vendor, Cyclehop/Sobi. https://metro.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=3823655&GUID=BCF1F5F2-BD21-4BB6-853E-85F68B2E3D87

    “CycleHop/Sobi collectively has the fewest operating bikeshare systems compared to the other firms. In addition, a reference for the firm stated there have been delays due to on-bike technology and supply chain issues. The Sobi smart-bicycle technology is so new that they have not had a chance to demonstrate long term viability and large scale reliability. This lack of long-term demonstrated experience and product success resulted in lower scores than the other proposals. ”

    Again, Metro is prioritizing working systems, not unproven technology by companies which have had poor references, as appears to be Assemblyman Bloom’s preference. Out of the four eligible candidates, Cyclehop/Sobi scored the worst on expertise/experience and quality of equipment and software. But even if we double the weight of “interoperability” to 40%, and proportionally decreased the other weights, Cyclehop/Sobi would still fail. What Assemblymember Bloom wanted was for Metro to issue a sole source contract, a clear violation of Federal law since this contract is funded by FHWA.

    All of these elected officials should know that sole source contracting is a poor practice and leads to a heavy audit risk. If Bloom gets his way, he will recirculate an RFP and weigh the scales in favor of Cyclehop/Sobi, a process that will only involve spending Metro money on lawyers and not on bikeshare, transit, bike lanes, or anything else.

  • ExpoRider

    The authors made a good argument until they got to the magic word: “delay”. We’ve had too many delays already and we need to get a system, or multiple systems, on the street.
    While having an integrated and interoperable system is a nice goal, it isn’t a necessity for a region the size of LA County with our 88 cities. Most bike share users will only use the system in a small area of the county, so they won’t be affected by the lack of regional integration. For those few of us who will want to use more than one system, Metro and the cities can arrange for a premium pass that crosses jurisdictional boundaries.
    Also, since bike share is a relatively new technology, and there are large questions about how it will work here in LA, I don’t have a problem with testing different systems and pricing models in different cities. Then we can see which works best and choose that model for expansion to the entire region. There may be some additional costs to reconfigure the existing systems that are rejected, but that will be better than being stuck with an inferior system. Or worse yet having no system because our first choice didn’t work.

  • Why is everyone focusing on why we didn’t go with CycleHop instead of asking why we didn’t go with Motivate? The report says they got dinged for not having a bike at the interview, but they’ve already deployed it in New York. In just this year, they announced a 6,000 bike expansion in NYC and a 7,000 bike expansion in the Bay Area using private funding. Are these people blind? Did they do any research at all? If LA wants to be a world class city, why didn’t it choose a world class operator?

  • You sound just like the people telling me we don’t need sidewalks on the Hyperion Bridge because nobody currently walks on the Hyperion Bridge.

  • Karen

    While interoperability is important, I’m concerned about the proposed solution — that Metro delay bike-share by potentially years to vast swaths of our region. Santa Monica knew that LA might chose another vendor. At some point not too far down the road, can’t it just cancel the contract with CycleHop and then switch to to the one Metro chose? I believe S.M. planners said the contract is seven years, so there should be the ability to do so.

    I’d like to hear more about why Metro went with those three vendors as top contenders instead of CycleHop. If there are good reasons — cost, Tap compatibility, etc — then it’d make more sense to get it right in the region and to have Santa Monica yield to the regional system in time.

    What’s worse — having one system for SM and one for LA for seven years, or having one system for SM and none for LA for several years? In my opinion, it’s the latter.

  • calwatch
  • calwatch

    “Although Motivate has provided financial information at the request of Metro in support of pre-qualification reviews, the data is incomplete and cannot be validated. Motivate also proposed a smart-dock bikeshare system similar to BTS.

    During oral presentations, Motivate was not able to demonstrate the bike being proposed for the DTLA Pilot launch as it was under production nor did the firm bring an older existing model for demonstration purposes.”

    To me this reads that Motivate couldn’t follow directions. That is not a good sign.

  • Karen

    I see CycleHop relies on Smartphone technology. Does this mean that people without Smartphones won’t be able to use the system — or will have much more trouble finding a bike? That doesn’t seem very equitable.

  • Joe Linton

    If it’s similar to other bike share systems – it’s super-convenient but not necessary to have a smartphone… but it does require a credit card (basically need a $1000 deposit for the bike), hence equity issues – though many systems have worked to create low-income programs where a non-profit or govt agency administers low-income non-credit-card memberships.

  • ranzchic

    The reason Metro is choosing the system that Santa Monica and Long Beach is proposing, the smart bike approach, is because it hasn’t been shown to be viable at all. Even the pricing structure for Santa Monica’s system is very questionable.

    (I’ll repost my points from another site but they apply just as well here)

    1) The smart bike approach is more prone to vandalism and theft because the locking mechanism is not as secure as the smart station approach that Metro, and other major US cities, have implemented. Indeed, vandalism and theft was the main reason the original Paris system was unsuccessful. They remedied this by making the locking mechanism on the stations more robust and vandalism and theft plummeted. You can’t do this with a smart bike system because you need stations.

    2) Labor costs are gonna be higher because it is cheaper to ‘re-balance’ bikes on a smart station set up. You don’t have to travel as much to pick up every single bike. You just go to a station and load or unload all the bikes in one go.

    3) The pricing structure of the Santa Monica system punishes regular users and tourists alike. The 30 minute or 60 minute daily limit ensures that you’ll be minute counting everyday. More importantly, it discourages unplanned short hop trips for errands that actually takes the bulk of riding share. Other systems have no such limits, only asking you to return a bike every thirty or 45 minutes. There is no limit on daily total minutes.

    Metro was smart enough to realize this and implement the viable, practical and proven system compared to a more novel approach that Santa Monica and Long Beach is implementing. I predict that those systems will probably not last very long and they will end up implementing Metro’s system instead.

  • ranzchic

    Because Cyclehop’s implementation (‘smart bike’) hasn’t been proven to work in a big and extensive system that Metro is proposing (‘smart station’). I’ll repost my post from up therefor the reasons:

    1) The smart bike approach is more prone to vandalism and theft because the locking mechanism is not as secure as the smart station approach that Metro, and other major US cities, have implemented. Indeed, vandalism and theft was the main reason the original Paris system was unsuccessful. They remedied this by making the locking mechanism on the stations more robust and vandalism and theft plummeted. You can’t do this with a smart bike system because you need stations.

    2) Labor costs are gonna be higher because it is cheaper to ‘re-balance’ bikes on a smart station set up. You don’t have to travel as much to pick up every single bike. You just go to a station and load or unload all the bikes in one go. Re-balacing is the number one operating cost of a bike share system.

    3) The pricing structure of the Santa Monica system punishes regular users and tourists alike. The 30 minute or 60 minute daily limit ensures that you’ll be minute counting everyday. More importantly, it discourages unplanned short hop trips for errands that actually takes the bulk of riding share. Other systems have no such limits, only asking you to return a bike every thirty or 45 minutes. There is no limit on daily total minutes.

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