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Santa Monica OKs New Bike Share Fee

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

June 26, 2015 -- When Santa Monica launches its “Breeze” bike-share program later this year, the “bike-friendly city” will charge riders a fee that is among a raft of new or increased user-charges in the fiscal budget City Council members adopted this week.

A base rate fee of $1 per every 10 minutes, or $6 per hour, will offset more than 80 percent of the maintenance and other operating costs for the new $10 million two-wheel “Breeze” transit system scheduled to start in November, raising about $650,000 a year, according to a staff report on the $1.1 billion biannual budget approved Tuesday.

Envisioned to be integrated with a regional rail system that will complete a nearly 20-mile connection from Downtown Los Angeles to Downtown Santa Monica by early next year, Santa Monica's program is the first part of what is expected to become a countywide bike share program (“Santa Monica Bikeshare Program Named “Breeze,’” February 12, 2015).

Arriving tourists and residents going from point to point in the City on the completed Phase II of the Los Angeles County Metro Transit Authority's Expo Light Rail Line -- so named because of its origin on Exposition Boulevard in L.A. -- will be able to hop off the train and hop on a bike from a nearby kiosk to their destinations.

At Tuesday's meeting, Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich briefly raised some concerns she had about the rates but ultimately voted with the rest of her colleagues in approving it.

“People have sent me a bunch of bike rates from other cities that are a lot lower than ours are for residents, actually for everyone, but for residents in particular,” said Himmelrich, adding she was concerned that the $6 hourly fee might be too high for people having to ride longer distances over some of the City's hillier terrain.

“The hour may not be enough time,” she said.

Riders who buy an hour's worth of bike time would be able to spread the time over the course of the day, using only as much time as they need, City officials said. Riders will be able to pick up a Breeze bike at any of 75 kiosks around the City and drop it off at another. If they have time remaining, they can go for another ride later in the day, said officials.

Officials are still working out some of logistics for a system -- including a test-run in August -- that will put an additional 500 bicycles on City streets, said Liz Bar-El, a City senior planner in the Planning and Community Development Department. It probably will end up working much like a bus pass, she added.

“We'll probably set it up as a pay-as-you-go 'tap card,' where you can put a certain amount of money, say $10, on it in advance, which would allow you to use it incrementally,” said Bar-El.

Monthly and yearly memberships also will be available, with special discounts for Santa Monicans, said Bar-El.

Residents appear eager for the program's launch, she added.

“I think there's a lot of excitement surrounding it,” said Bar-El.

Mayor Kevin McKeown said the new fees aim to strike a balance between trying to recover operating costs and encouraging ridership, but they can always be adjusted down the road, depending on the public's response to the new system.

“From my understanding this pricing system is infinitely flexible, is it not? This is simply staff's best guess of what will maximize ridership and recover costs,” said McKeown at Tuesday's meeting.

Originally designed to be supported in large part through advertisements on bikes and bike kiosks, the system had its revenue potential reduced in February, when Council member voted that ads be allowed only on the bicycles’ front baskets and along the triangular frames next to the back wheels, noted Councilman Ted Winterer.

Miami Beach-based CycleHop is supplying the bikes and will install and operate the system, which also will feature bikes with automatic lights for nighttime travel.

Along with adding new bike share fees, City Council members voted to keep the landmarks permit fee, which officials said is a very minor revenue generator, the same, at about $875, and approved a slew of new or increased fees, fines and other charges.

Projected revenues in the adopted 2015-16 budget's General Fund from local sources are $234.8 million, including sales and other taxes and money generated from the City's 120 or so different fees for a variety of services, according to the budget breakdown.

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