Bikeshare should help get people out of their cars.

Bike riding supporters might want to reserve next Tuesday for a visit to Santa Monica's City Hall. The city council will be considering how to proceed with the bikeshare program. As the Santa Monica Daily Press reports, the “bikeshare will allow riders to check out one of the system’s 500 bikes from one of 75 locations in the city and drop it off at another.”

As proposed, the pricing for the system does not seem to be designed to maximize bike use, presumably the intended goal. “For an hour of riding, a tourist or an infrequent user will pay $6....More frequent riders can pay $20 per month for 30 minutes of daily riding time or $25 per month for an hour of daily riding. A basic annual pass — which gives users 30 minutes of usage 365 days of the year — will run $119 and an extended pass, which bumps that ride time to an hour, would cost $149.” This seems like an extension of the metering model used for parking, which runs contrary to the goal of maximizing use.

Why have time limits on use at all? If we really want locals and visitors to use bikes as transportation, it would make more sense to allow people to ride as much as they want. Thus, a user could, for example, ride to work, ride to and from lunch, stop at the library, pick up some groceries, stop for dinner, go the movies, meet for a drink, and go home. System bikes would be required to be returned to stations when not being ridden, thus freeing them up for other users.

“For Santa Monica residents, the basic annual pass will cost only $79 and the extended $99. Santa Monica College students are offered the greatest discount: $47 for six months of 60 minute daily riding.The $6 an hour casual fee simply buys 60 minutes of ride time that never expires. For monthly and annual passes, however, daily minutes do not roll over.”

Why limit the discount to Santa Monica residents? There are many thousands of non-Santa Monica westsiders who will be within walking distance of stations and should be encouraged to take bikes when going to Bergamot Station, Third Street, the beach or the pier. Also, don’t we want to encourage as many of the people who live elsewhere but work in Santa Monica to use bikes? The same discount should apply to employees as to residents.

“One of the things that city officials loved about the operator they selected, CycleHop, is that their technology allows bikes to be returned to locations other than the 75 stations throughout the city. If a bike is returned to a regular bike rack — even if it’s not an official station — within the Santa Monica-area, riders will only pay an additional $2. If a rider hops on that bike, which is not connected to an official Breeze rack, and returns it to a Breeze station, she’ll get a $1 credit for bikeshare usage. If a bike is locked up outside of the Santa Monica-area, the rider will pay a $20 fee. If a bike is returned to a generic bike rack within 100 feet of a hub that is full, the rider won’t be charged $2.”

This is all well and good, but it raises another question. Technology has advanced since the first bikeshare programs were installed in other cities. One change is that there is no longer a justification for a capital-intensive investment in stations. Bikes can be fitted easily with wireless devices that keep track of bikes wherever they are and allow them to be locked and unlocked by a downloadable app that will also keep track of payments. Users would be able to see the location of the nearest available bike. Such a system might make it possible to eliminate passes altogether, replacing them with incremental micro-charges, either capped or greatly reduced by frequent use. Being a laggard should be made to work to Santa Monica’s advantage.

Parenthetically, technology is also available to make the bikes cease to function if they are removed from the city, further lessening the need for expensive stations.

Additionally, it would make sense to explore whether there is a need for a system that would allow employees to pay an extra fee to take bikes home. This might make particular sense for SMC and private school students who live in nearby cities. This would increase the number of bikes available during working (and school) hours and encourage employees (and students) to use bikes on their off days when they return to shop, eat, go to the movies, Pier concerts, the beach, etc. Even if it cost double or triple the standard annual rate (see, next paragraph), it still might be worth it to people who do not want to purchase, maintain and repair a bike of their own.

So, assuming the bike stations are here to stay, here’s a proposal:
$6/day available to anyone for an unlimited number of trips and no limit on time.
$15/month available to anyone for an unlimited number of daily trips and no limit on time. This would encourage tourists staying three days or longer to pay the fee to have use of bikes throughout their stay.
$60/annual pass available to residents and employees for an unlimited number of daily trips and no limit on time. A student discount should be considered for the annual fee.

The rest of the story: Santa Monica bikeshare still on schedule; rates proposed by David Mark Simpson (Santa Monica Daily Press).

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