Santa Monica Lookout
City Council Approves Santa Monica Bike Share Plan
By Jason Islas
September 26, 2013 -- The Santa Monica City Council voted 5 to 1 Tuesday to push ahead with plans to develop a what could be the first bike share system in Los Angeles County.
With roughly $2 million in grant funding on the line, the Council overwhelmingly agreed that the bayside city should seek an operator for a system that would include about 375 bikes -- secured at strategic locations around Santa Monica -- for use by paid members.
However, voicing concerns that Santa Monica should have more time to work with its regional neighbors to develop a system that works across city borders, the Council also agreed that staff should simultaneously work toward extending a December deadline -- attached to grant funding by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) -- for choosing an operator.
“We are uniquely positioned,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown, referring to the fact that of the westside cities -- including Los Angeles and Culver City -- only Santa Monica has managed to secure capital funds to build a bike share system.
McKeown, who represents Santa Monica on the Westside Council of Governments (COG), said that building a regional bike share system is important, but that Santa Monica should not put the brakes on if nearby cities aren't ready to move forward.
Councilmember Davis agreed.
“We need to get out in front and we can drag them along behind us,” she said, referring to the other cities in the region.
Councilmember Ted Winterer pointed out that a regional bike share system -- especially if it were developed with the the County public transit authority, Metro -- would compliment the Expo Light Rail line, expected to begin running trains into Santa Monica in 2016.
Winterer imagined Santa Monica residents taking a bike from a kiosk in town and riding to one of three Expo stations in the city where they could park the bike at a nearby kiosk. They could then hop on the train to Culver City, the Natural History Museum or even Downtown Los Angeles and pick up another bike from a kiosk near the station where they disembark.
But that would only work if the kiosks outside the city didn't require a different membership system than the ones in Santa Monica.
Josh Kurpies, the senior field representative for Assemblymember Richard Bloom, was on hand to speak in favor of developing plans for a regional system and said that Bloom would push the CTC to grant an extension of the December deadline.
The other major question facing the Council was how best to fund the ongoing operating costs for the program. While the initial capital costs are covered by grants, staff said that, like the dozens of bike share programs operating in the country, user fees will only cover part of the annual operating cost, which staff puts at $840,000 a year.
While the estimates are conservative, staff said that the City will have to find a way to pay for anywhere between $453,000 and $614,000 of those costs.
In order to do that, the Council agreed that staff should look at the possibility of finding sponsors who would be willing to put their logo on bikes and the kiosks in exchange for paying at least some of the operating costs.
Deputy Director for Special Projects Lucy Dyke, one of the architects of Santa Monica's 2011 bike action plan, told the Council that in other bike share programs, sponsorship is not always enough to cover costs and that the City might also consider selling ad space at bike share kiosks.
Both options have a downside. While Santa Monica may find a local sponsor, it could make it harder to expand the system out of the city's borders.
If the City opens the kiosks to general advertising, while it would be less restrictive than having one or two sponsors, the City cannot control much of the what's advertised.
The Council opted to go with staff's recommendation and seek sponsorship before deciding if selling ad space will be necessary to make up the difference.
This did not sit well with Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who was the sole no vote Tuesday night.
“I'm not sure I want to sell Santa Monica,” he said.
Still the prevailing attitude was summed up by McKeown when he said, “Let's not delay another day.
“I'd like to be the city that made (bike share) happen,” he said.
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