The city of Santa Monica’s “Breeze” bike-share system “Breeze” expected to go live this summer. Photo: Santa Monica Next
Earlier this week, we ran an editorial by Assemblymember Richard Bloom with other Westside elected officials calling on Metro to “delay its decision” on a 1,000-bike bike-share system slated to open in downtown Los Angeles in early 2016. Metro has the bike-share contract on its board meeting agenda for today; it was approved by Metro’s planning committee approved last week.
It’s my hope that my editorial today might be able to play a small role in bridging the rift between Metro and these Westside leaders – allowing multiple bike-share systems to thrive. I urge the Metro Board to approve its bike-share system today. I fully expect that a year from now, we’ll have flourishing bike-share systems running in Long Beach, Santa Monica, and downtown L.A.
Bike-share is great. It works in hundreds of cities all over the planet. As Metro Boardmember and L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin stated, it’s “long overdue” for L.A. County. There is a broad consensus on this. Elected officials, cities, agencies, and the public all want it.
Early poorly-planned attempts failed to bring bike-share to the city of L.A. By fall of 2013, Santa Monica had already approved moving forward with bike-share. Soon after, Mayor Eric Garcetti and others directed Metro to lead efforts toward a regional bike-share system. Despite Metro pressure to delay, Santa Monica moved forward with its 500-bike system, debuting next month. Santa Monica’s “Breeze” system is largely funded via Metro’s Call for Projects. Long after Santa Monica got things underway, and probably partially in reaction to Santa Monica’s initiative, Metro pulled together its plans and initial funding. In late 2014, Metro initiated its vendor selection process for a downtown L.A. pilot. Last week’s committee meeting included not only the Metro DTLA pilot but also new “Interoperability Objectives” guidelines [PDF] that would, in effect, force all new L.A. County bike-share under a one-size-fits-all Metro umbrella.
Santa Monica and Long Beach bike-shares selected vendor CycleHop, a “smart bike” system. Metro selected Bicycle Transit Systems, a “smart dock” system. These systems are not compatible, not “interoperable.” No rider will be able to check out a bike in Santa Monica, and ride it ten miles to downtown L.A. and dock the bike there. But then again, bike-share bikes are for short hops; they’re bulky and not really suited to 10-mile trips anyway. In the event that the service areas expand over time, which they will, some day there will be a need for interoperability – whatever form that takes – but the need now is to get these systems implemented and get on-the-ground experience.
Bloom’s editorial states that Metro’s smart docks are “old technology” and Santa Monica’s smart bikes are “cutting edge.” In her testimony last week, L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) General Manager Seleta Reynolds emphasized that all bike-share systems are “very much a start-up.” Start-ups are risky. If other cities’ bike-share implementation experience is telling, it’s possible that one or both of these these companies will experience hiccups. This could mean delays, supply issues, or worse. At this early stage, I think it will be beneficial to have multiple systems would operate within L.A. County, just in case one system has problems. There may even be new technology right around the corner, too, so it just doesn’t make sense to put all our eggs in one countywide basket today.
Here’s what I’d like to see in bike-share’s near future:
- The DTLA, Long Beach, and Santa Monica systems all get underway, with bikes on the ground in the year ahead.
- Each of these systems gradually expands to contiguous and nearby areas. (Councilmember Bonin and LADOT are supportive of expanding Santa Monica’s Breeze system into Venice; an initial roll-out plan includes three stations in the city of Los Angeles and more Breeze stations throughout L.A.’s Westside makes sense. Metro’s DTLA system expands into Pasadena and Hollywood.)
- Metro supports all bike-share systems that meet a minimum standard, but not set up restrictive one-size-fits-all rules.
- Service coverage grows over the next 5-10 years to the point where we have the “problem” of further integrating a small handful of excellent local bike-share systems.
The scenario I most fear is that the Westside electeds get their way, delaying Metro bike-share today. Then Metro could retaliate, isolating Santa Monica’s fledgling system. Instead of having two or three or more functional bike-share systems, we could end up with none.
I urge the Metro Board to approve Metro bike-share, and urge all parties to work together respectfully to continue to expand bike-share coverage throughout the county.