Submitted by Eddie Warner
On December 5th our City Council will consider a request from LimeBike, a dockless bike sharing company. A corporate pitch can sound great on the surface, but often the details tell another story. The specifics of this business model are a bad fit for our community on many levels.
In my November 1st letter, I discussed the problems with (1) allowing these dockless companies to do business on the Public Right of Way, (2) the lack of safety equipment, individual bike adjustments, and local riding advice, (3) the unproven business concept, especially in small communities like ours, (4) the impact on local businesses who pay taxes and support our local fund-raisers, and (5) inconsistencies in program details involving commuters, tourists, the Navy, and wayward bikes. Since then more issues have cropped up.
We need to learn from the experience of other communities. In mid-November, DecoBike, San Diego’s bike share company, removed 15 bike stations from the Mission and Pacific Beach coastal areas. The stations had prompted a backlash from residents and merchants in these communities. “It was a pure bait and switch,” said a local businessman, referring to talk of assisting commuters when they were truly only after revenue from tourists. A Pacific Beach community leader said, “It’s what the city should have done from the beginning – emphasize mobility hubs and transit connectivity (in urban San Diego), not tourists.” DecoBikes were limited to specific docking locations and still were unacceptable to the community. LimeBikes can be left anywhere. Let’s not make the same mistake.
What community benefit, for how many people, are we hoping to receive in return for permitting this model to multiply on our streets? LimeBike’s request to our Bicycle Advisory Committee asked for up to 600 bikes, and already two other companies have requested permits to bring more dockless bikes to Coronado. How will our City Staff and Police handle complaints about the bikes blocking sidewalks and driveways, in both business and residential neighborhoods? Problems in San Francisco prompted the city to issue new rules: “The city will issue tickets to companies for bikes left where they’d block normal ‘right of way’ foot or vehicle traffic. And non-permitted bikes will be hauled off under the new rules.” Is this how we want our City Staff and Police spending their time?
The financial viability of dockless bike sharing has been called into question. There is a comprehensive article in Fortune, at http://fortune.com/2017/03/21/chinese-bike-sharing/. Key points include (1) economies of scale don’t work in bike sharing, (2) competitors keep piling in, (3) the escalation of expenses to haul bikes back to busy intersections, find abandoned bikes, fight theft, and to comply with new regulations put in place because city officials are annoyed at hordes of bikes blocking sidewalks. Dockless companies won’t be focused on serving our community; they’ll be focused on the next venture capital funding round.
The numerous likely problems far outweigh the questionable limited benefits to our community. Please voice your opinion by writing or calling, or better yet, by attending the December 5th City Council meeting at 4pm.
Disclaimer: I own a local bike rental company, but I continue to be a vocal advocate of the Free Summer Shuttle because it benefits our community, even though it has hurt my business.