A May San Diego County County Grand Jury report accuses officials at the Metropolitan Transit System of refusing to get onboard with the city's bike-sharing program.
DecoBike, launched in 2013, has been touted as a step in the right direction in moving San Diego closer to a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly city, as laid out in San Diego's climate action plan. The program allows visitors to rent bikes at kiosks — $5 for a half hour, $7 for an hour, $12 for two hours, with monthly and annual memberships available. The kiosks are sited near busy transit centers and popular tourist attractions. Cyclists are allowed to return the bikes to any DecoBike kiosk throughout the city.
The company spent $8 million to build the kiosks and install the required infrastructure. In exchange, the city allowed the company to use the public right-of-way (sidewalks and other areas for the bike racks). The city also granted DecoBike the right to offer ad space at kiosks and on the bikes.
But, grand jury members found that the local transit agency, as well as a few beach communities, have been "uncooperative" and have prevented the program from gaining momentum. In the case of the transit agency, grand jury members criticized Metropolitan Transit System officials for refusing to allow DecoBike kiosks near busy bus and trolley stations, one of which is at the busy transit hub in Old Town.
"...[W]hile kiosks are located throughout the urban core, they are not co-located with transit stops, which is crucial to the program’s goal of solving the 'last mile' issue and connecting to public transportation," reads the May 2016 grand jury report. "The Metropolitan Transit System has been uncooperative in allowing bikeshare stations near transit stops.... [Metropolitan Transit System] needs to come to the table."
Transit agency spokesperson Rob Schupp says Metropolitan Transit System has been at the table all along.
"We have been fully cooperative with DecoBike. We fully support placing their stations at our facilities where they would not pose a safety concern — most of our trolley stations are narrow and cannot accommodate a DecoBike station," said Schupp in a July 7 email.
"In fact, we are in a marketing partnership with them right now that pairs MTS passes with DecoBike memberships."
Schupp says that there have been logistical issues with the kiosks. For instance, Metropolitan Transit System denied placing a bike kiosk near a Rapid Bus Station along El Cajon Boulevard due to safety and accessibility concerns.
As for kiosks at Old Town's transit station, says Schupp, "[Metropolitan Transit System] met with DecoBike a couple of times and designated a spot for them at the corner of Taylor and Congress, a highly visible corner. They never installed a station there. I don’t know why.... To my knowledge, DecoBike has not reached out to us in the last year to request more locations."
The grand jury also found that opportunities to get people out of cars and onto DecoBikes has been squandered in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach.
The report says residents claim installing the kiosks throughout the community will have a negative impact on bike and beach rental shops. Not so, reads the report.
"To the extent that bikesharing targets casual tourist riders, there may be some competition, although no rental shop has offered proof of income loss. However, the two rental options are very different operationally," found grand jury members.
Among the reasons for the difference, "traditional bike rentals usually must be returned within normal business hours to the same location they were rented, while bikesharing is available 24/7 at multiple locations. In fact, 44 [percent] of DecoBike’s Pacific Beach boardwalk rentals occur outside bike shop business hours."
Hoping to boost ridership and bike rentals, the grand jury recommended that the city designate a point person who can act as a spokesperson and address placement and accessibility concerns, as well as to promote the program.