Bikeshare partnership in the works for North County


Prepare for the bikeshare onslaught.

Five North County cities are banding together to gather information from bikeshare companies in the hopes of finding one to run a one-year pilot program that could launch within the next two months.

Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Carlsbad and Oceanside have agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the North County Transit District and Camp Pendleton to see if a bikeshare company can run the pilot program at little or no cost to the cities. The thinking is that the bicycles, and possibly electric scooters, will cover the first and last mile of trips based around train stations, giving coastal visitors an option for leaving their cars at home. Cutting into vehicle miles driven is at the heart of the long-term climate plans the cities have adopted in the past few years. In Solana Beach, for example, 63 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector.

Rather than a docking-based system like the one that has been operating in San Diego for three years, the North County cities will give preference to dockless bikes and scooters—the free-roaming, GPS-enabled vessels that have flooded neighborhoods in the City of San Diego over the past month.

Riders rent the bikes and scooters through a smartphone app, typically for $1 or $2 an hour. The bikes are tracked via GPS and have self-locking mechanisms, allowing them to be picked up and dropped off anywhere.

But wherever they have appeared, a backlash has quickly followed, with irate residents bemoaning the abundance of bikes strewn throughout their neighborhoods.

LimeBike and ofo began operating in San Diego last month after its city attorney ruled that allowing them does not conflict with the city’s contract with Discover Bikes, which uses docking stations. Complaints mounted almost immediately, crystallized in a photo that made the rounds on social media showing more than a dozen bikes piled into a tangled eyesore at an intersection in the Gaslamp district.

Coronado has since declared dockless bikes a public nuisance and is impounding any that are found in public rights-of-way. Ocean Beach is working on regulations to rein bikeshares in, driven in large part by brick-and-mortar rental businesses that worry the companies have an unfair advantage. And in Santa Monica, where Bird electric scooters launched last year, officials became so dismayed by the company’s refusal to obtain vendor permits and business licenses that the city issued an eight-count criminal complaint.

Under the North County’s MOU—which is non-binding—Encinitas will take the lead in conferring with bikeshare companies. If viable candidates emerge, the cities will agree on a single vendor then reach separate agreements with that company.

Each city’s agreement will spell out terms for resolving the pitfalls that have plagued bikeshares and for settling various as-yet-unanswered questions, including how to enforce helmet laws and whether the bikes will be used at night.

Solana Beach and Encinitas voted on March 14 to join the bikeshare partnership. Del Mar agreed on March 5. Before its 4-0 vote, Del Mar Deputy Mayor Dave Druker warned of the importance of understanding the companies’ financial viability.

“I don’t want to see a business plan that says, ‘We’re going to be the Uber of bike rentals,’” Druker said. “A lot of cities are finding that they’re interesting and they sound great on paper. Ultimately they’re having difficulty with them because the [companies] don’t have a business plan that is actually sustainable for the long term. … Ultimately there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”