San Mateo is shifting its bicycle-sharing program into a new gear as the city makes a jump from a fleet of blue bicycles stationed in racks across the city to a squad of dockless, bright green bicycles and scooters.
As soon as the end of May, residents may see more of the bright green bicycles at well-traveled city spots like the downtown Caltrain station as officials roll out a newly-approved contract with the San Mateo-based startup LimeBike. Many LimeBikes already in the city are from Burlingame’s recently adopted program which costs about $1 per use.
After a piloting a program with bicycle sharing company Social Bicycles for nearly two years and with some 50 blue bicycles, Deputy City Manager Kathy Kleinbaum said officials were able to determine shared bicycles were a viable “last-mile” solution for some commuters. Garnering some 1,000 members to date, Social Bicycles’ docked program — which stationed bicycles for reservation by a mobile app at racks across the city — proved to be a boon for commuters who used the bicycles to travel short distances across the city.
“I think that’s really important and we want to make sure that we continue to have some sort of service available,” she said. “I think it really facilitates people taking public transportation and other modes to work.”
But with the company’s shift from blue bicycles called “Bay Bikes” to a red, electric model dubbed “JUMP Bikes,” Kleinbaum said creating the infrastructure needed to charge the new bikes proved to be a logistical challenge, leading officials and representatives of Social Bicycles to conclude it would be best to put the program on pause.
“Social Bicycles was a good partner,” she said. “I think it was just the switch to electric bikes was going to be more challenging.”
The company’s shift marked an opportunity for the city to re-evaluate how it could continue to shape its shared bicycle permitting process to keep pace with the evolving landscape of bicycle sharing companies, said Kleinbaum, who noted many of the dockless bicycle providers operating today weren’t around a year ago.
“We just wanted to test out the experience of working with a dockless provider and get an understanding of what the issues might be,” she said.
Kleinbaum said the city has already encountered the bright green bicycles as those circulating around Burlingame have made their way across the city’s border with its northern neighbor since Burlingame officials approved a 200-bicycle program earlier this year. By working directly with LimeBike to place and monitor a maximum of 300 bicycles, electric bicycles and scooters throughout the city, Kleinbaum said they will be better equipped to identify and address potential issues as they unfold.
She added the startup is offering its services at no cost to the city and will be responsible for negotiating with property owners to establish “home zones,” or commonly visited spots like transit stops where it makes sense to have bicycles available, and retrieving bicycles from far-flung spots, responsibilities previously taken on by city staff under the agreement with Social Bicycles.
“I think it will be a tremendous reduction in the amount of staff time,” she said.
The switch will also result in a $42,500 refund to the city when it returns the bicycles to Social Bicycles and a termination of a $7,500 monthly payment for operating the program as of May 1. Kleinbaum said the blue Bay Bikes and their docks may be picked up from city streets as early as next week.
With monthly reports on ridership and complaints from LimeBike, Kleinbaum is hoping the city will have a better sense of the impact the new fleet has on city streets and how they can best be kept out of the path of travel, adding that officials have asked the startup not to roll out LimeBike scooters in San Mateo until it’s determined best practices from its trials in San Francisco. Also included in LimeBike’s contract with the city are electric bicycles, which Kleinbaum said are designed with batteries that can be taken out by LimeBike staff and exchanged with charged batteries and do not require the charging infrastructure required by the JUMP Bikes.
Though Social Bicycles may be moving out of the city for now, Kleinbaum is hopeful the one-year pilot with LimeBike will give officials a better sense of potential issues and inform policies that could make it possible to accommodate multiple bicycle sharing providers in the city someday.
“If things go well, our intention is to move toward a more open permit model,” she said.
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