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City Council to Consider Santa Monica Bike Share Program

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

September 23, 2013 -- Santa Monica could get one of the first public bike share systems in Los Angeles County as early as next year if the City Council signs off Tuesday on plans to seek an operator.

In order to qualify for more than $2 million in pending grant money that will pay to get bike share up and running, the Council has until December to choose an operator for the proposed publicly-owned system, which would own 375 bikes placed at 25 to 35 stations around the eight-square-mile city.

While staff originally planned on getting a bike share system in Santa Monica by 2018, the coming Expo light rail and pressure from bike advocates and residents caused staff to expedite the process.

“We want to stay in synch with the recent increase in biking in the city,” said Francie Stefan, the City's community and strategic transportation manager. “We wanted to be ahead of the light rail.”

Expo, which is expected to reach Santa Monica in 2016, already averages roughly 25,000 rides a day along the first half of the route -- from Downtown Los Angeles to Culver City -- which opened last year.

Even though the City has secured funding for the system, and customers will likely be charged to use it, one major question before the Council will be how to pay for $453,000 to $614,000 of the estimated $840,000 annual operating costs.

“Bike share is like a bus service or other transit service,” said Stefan, noting that it operates at a loss since user fees will pay for only about 27 percent of the operating costs.

That, staff says, is roughly the same percentage of operating costs L.A. Metro riders cover.

According to the staff report, “Most systems make up the shortfall through sponsorship and/or advertising, regardless of whether the systems are public, private or non-profit owner operated.”

However, staff said that it is still unclear how much money the City could expect to generate through a sponsorship program that allows companies or organizations to place their logos on stations or bikes in exchange for funding.

Another major consideration is how to make sure Santa Monica's bike share system can be incorporated into a regional network, City officials said.

While Los Angeles and other cities on the Westside have shown interest in developing their own systems, Santa Monica is the only one with funding.

“Staffs from Metro, the City of Los Angeles and the Westside Cities met as recently as September 16 to discuss a new collaborative procurement effort,” staff said.

Assembly member Richard Bloom is expected to weigh in with an October 15 forum on the logistics of creating a regional bike share program.

Still, time is of the essence, since the Metro grant -- Santa Monica's largest funding source for the project -- requires that the City choose an operator by December.

Staff has petitioned the County agency for an extension in hopes that it can hammer out more details for a regional system, but if that doesn't happen, the City will have to move forward without its neighbors.

At least, for now, since staff recommends that the Council require any operator bidding to run Santa Monica's bike share program to be able “to explain how they would ensure that their system will be interoperable with any future system to be deployed in a neighboring jurisdiction.”

Stefan underscored the importance of establishing a bike share system in Santa Monica, which officials estimate will be used for 80,000 to 90,000 rides a year, in order to meet the City's Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) goals.

“It was important to move forward (with bike share) because it's a great way to” reduce auto traffic, Stefan said.

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