Coronado to impound dockless bikes, fine companies

Dockless bicycles, those ubiquitous two-wheelers that have overtaken downtown San Diego, have been declared a public nuisance in Coronado.

The city said it plans to impound the bikes if they are left in the public right-of-way — streets, sidewalks, alleys and public parks or beaches — and potentially charge the companies that lease them hundreds of dollars to get them back.

Enforcement could begin Wednesday, said City Manager Blair King.

It is the latest bump in the road for the bike-sharing companies since they introduced the so-called dockless service in the region less than a month ago, with complaints from merchants about discarded bikes cluttering sidewalks, posing safety risks and hurting business.

Coronado didn’t expect to encounter those challenges. The city doesn’t allow the companies to operate. In December 2017, it denied business permits to LimeBike and other dockless bicycle companies.

“However, the rampant use of dockless bicycles from neighboring cities has resulted in numerous dockless bicycles ending up in Coronado,” King said.

Dockless bicycles from Imperial Beach and San Diego are making their way to the peninsula through the Coronado ferry and Silver Strand Boulevard. Locals have spotted bikes from LimeBike, ofo, and Mobike along Orange Avenue and state Route 75.

The freestanding bikes can be rented using a smartphone app for $1 or $2 and don’t have to be returned to a shop or docking station. Instead, they lock in place when they aren’t in use.

When the bike-sharing companies approached the city last year, several of Coronado’s existing bike rental businesses asked the council to deny them business permits. One of them was Cruiser King, which is owned by David Parrish.

“If the area is underrepresented by bike rental companies, maybe there’s an opportunity for (dockless bikes),” Parrish said. “But the city has a right and responsibility to back the businesses that pay taxes.”

Parrish said people can rent bikes throughout Coronado, including within 100 feet of the ferry.

Currently, Coronado can impound tagged bikes after 72 hours

Under the new enforcement policies, police officers will place tags on the dockless bikes. If they are not removed within two hours, the bikes will be impounded.

Dockless bike companies can claim their impounded bicycles after paying a fee or citation. Coronado hasn’t determined exactly how much it will charge companies, but it is considering citations of $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second, and $500 for any subsequent violations.

Ofo, a dockless bike company operating in San Diego, said the two-hour time frame is too narrow for them to respond. In a letter to city officials, the company said police officers should be focusing on more pressing public safety concerns instead of tagging bicycles.

“It appears the paper notice serves as the sole notification mechanism, providing ofo with a very limited opportunity to rectify, which essentially makes the proposal an impoundment ordinance,” wrote Katie Stevens, ofo’s head of Public Policy — West.

“While we understand the concerns voiced at previous hearings, we believe this approach unnecessarily places law enforcement in a position to tag bikes rather than handle more pressing public safety needs.”

The company suggested other enforcement actions, such as having the city notify the company with an email instead of a tag.

Imperial Beach was the first city in the county to partner with a dockless bicycle company, LimeBike. The city likes the bikes so much that it renewed its six-month agreement.

San Diego cannot offer an exclusive deal because of a pre-existing bike share program, so multiple dockless companies began operating there three weeks ago. Business groups do not like that bicycles and scooters are being left in busy sidewalks.

The Little Italy Association is lobbying Civic San Diego, which oversees policies for the downtown area, to request a cease-and-desist action until the San Diego City Council can study the problem and approve a comprehensive set of regulations.

In North County, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas have agreed to partner to create a regional bike share program. Carlsbad and Oceanside are expected to vote on the proposal.

To date, the Coronado Police Department has impounded two dockless bicycles, said department spokesperson Lea Corbin.

Coronado came up with the new policies after asking dockless bicycle companies to remove their bikes from the city in a timely manner.

However, the city manager said, the companies “have so far provided inadequate response to those informal resolution efforts.”

LimeBike said it is working with the city to address concerns.

“We have abided by their process, and have not distributed any bikes in Coronado,” LimeBike spokesperson Mary Caroline wrote in a statement. “Any LimeBikes located in that area would be from San Diego residents and visitors using them to ride to Coronado.”

The company will continue to conduct a “comprehensive outreach program to ensure they are addressing any challenges and best serving the needs of the community,” she added.

Contact Gustavo Solis via Email or Twitter

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