SACOG bike share policy

The SACOG Regional Bike Share Policy Steering Committee met this week on Monday (agenda). This was the first meeting of the committee in quite some while, long enough that the staff member did not remember when the last one was. The committee is almost entirely new people since the last meeting. Members are: Alberto Ayala (Sac Metro Air Quality District), James Corless (SACOG), Dawnté Early (City of West Sacramento), Caity Maple (City of Sacramento council member D5), Katie Valenzuela (City of Sacramento council member D4), and Chair Josh Chapman (City of Davis).

There was a presentation by SACOG staff Nicole Zhi Ling Porter on the status of bike share/scooter share (or micromobility) in the region, as well as questions that the policy committee will help answer. The main question is the ownership and operations model, with three options”

  • privately owned and operated (the current model)
  • publicly owned and operated
  • publicly owned and privately operated (under contract)

These are not exclusive categories. Several existing bike share programs have detail models for operations, using some sort of public/private partnership.

The City of Davis and UC Davis are undertaking a study to determine the model they want to use and the operators. They did not rejoin the regional program after the pandemic shutdown. It has apparently not been decided that they will not rejoin the program, but they wanted to consider other options. There may be an announcement about this in the near future.

The current bike share fleet is about one-third the number of bikes that were available before the pandemic, which was about 900. Sacramento was in fact the most successful bike share system in the country, as measured by number of rides per bike per day. The system is now an also-ran.

Several committee members mentioned that rental costs were now much higher, and that was probably depressing use. I have to admit that I am a Lime Access member, meaning that I don’t pay for individual rides of up to 30 minutes, so I have not noticed the per-minute fees.

I was the only public person in attendance in the room. One person spoke on Zoom, but I have not way of knowing if there were more people observing on Zoom. Note that I am a user of the bike share, not of the scooter share, and don’t have much perspective on scooters, I expressed these concerns, which I hope committee will address:

  • Instability: The unannounced shutdown of the system at the beginning of the pandemic was not the desire of the public, which wanted to continue using the bikes. This type of issue, determined solely on the whims of the operator/owner, is not acceptable to the users, and any new policy must address this issue.
  • Maintenance: The bikes are not being maintained to an acceptable level of good repair. About 1/4 of the bikes I try to rent are unrideable for various reasons, about 1/4 are rideable but have significant issues, and about 1/2 are more of less OK.
  • Distribution: The agreement between the operator/owner requires that some bikes be distributed/rebalanced into low income neighborhoods within the service area (many are not in the service area, but some are). My observation, both from being on the streets and checking the app, indicate that this is not being done.
  • Transit integration: The JUMP bike share system was for a time somewhat integrated with transit. Bike charging stations were located at a number of light rail stations. But when Uber took over the system, these charging stations were removed. So there is no integration at this time. Bike share and transit can complement each other in critical ways, but the current system is operating without that insight. There are a few systems in the country where the transportation/transit agency also operates the bike share system, Los Angeles Metro for example. Though this system is not perfect, the integration is noticeable, and the rental rates are significantly below that of private systems.

fixed bike/scooter corral

A bike/scooter corral was installed on R Street in a parking space, next to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. Though for a while drivers respected the set-aside, marked for bikes and scooters, drivers came to use the space as regular parking, with a car parked there almost all day long, preventing the intended use as a bike and scooter parking area. I reported this illegal parking to the city a number of times, but to my knowledge, no one was ever ticketed. It should be noted that parking is not short on the streets around the co-op, and there is a parking garage adjacent to the co-op, which I have never seen full. So drivers were using the spot for personal convenience.

The city recently installed vertical delineators (flex posts) in the spot and repainted the while line that signifies are bike parking area. So far it is working, I’ve not seen anyone run over the posts in order to park there.

The majority of the bike/scooter corrals in the city have been placed on wide sidewalks, where they don’t interfere with walking. The in-street corrals are mostly being respected; this is the only one I am aware of that was routinely violated.

These corrals are designed to solve two issues: 1) provide parking where traditional bike racks are not present or insufficient; and 2) to keep scooters (mostly rental scooters from the scooter-share companies) from filling up the regular bike racks and preventing their use by the public.

photo: R St micromobility corral with posts

public or private bike share?

JUMP (Uber) pulled out of the Sacramento region (the cities of Sacramento, West Sacramento, and Davis) in order to meet their concerns about COVID-19. They announced this on March 18, though the bikes and scooters were mostly gone two days before that (except for a few dead ones they still haven’t picked up because without GPS they don’t know where the devices are).

Of course the bikes and scooters were getting used a great deal for recreation and socialization, but they were also being used by many people to get to and from work, and to go grocery shopping (small loads) and other errands. Some of these people do not have an alternative, they do not own a bike, or their bike is not functional. I don’t know what the level of participation was in the JUMP Boost program for low income individuals, but I suspect most of those people do not own cars, or cannot afford to keep them running, so JUMP bikes were a major transportation solution for these people. JUMP pulled the rug out from under these people. As a private company, they are entitled to do so. I will note that Spin scooters still seem to be available, and Spin has publicly made a commitment to continuing to offer scooters.

I am not one of the people depending on JUMP bikes. I have a bike, and using JUMP was just a matter of convenience for me, letting me make faster trips to the store and other errands, and during the warm/hot months, get there without a sweat. But there are others not so fortunate.

I consider bike share to be a part of the transit system for Sacramento. Both JUMP and SacRT also seem to see it this way – they cooperated to install JUMP charging hubs at a number of light rail stations in the city of Sacramento. But now we are without that first mile/last mile option (as it is called, though bike certainly allow more than a mile). Just as transit is funded by the public (as well as user fees), bike share, and probably scooter share, should be funded by the public (as well as user fees).

Going forward, the city needs to give serious thoughts to whether it is acceptable to have a private system as the only provider of mobility devices. Coronavirus is only one ‘natural’ disaster emergency. There will be others from other causes that demand we continue to have a functional transportation system. I am not suggesting that JUMP be eliminated in favor of a public system. JUMP (Uber) has had its issues, but when I think back to where we were before SoBi > JUMP, I can’t doubt it was a good thing. Certainly the fairly rapid expansion of the number of bikes and scooters, and the service area enlarged to much more (though not all) of the city of Sacramento, could not have happened without private investment.

Maybe the city can work out an agreement with JUMP that a certain number of bikes would remain available through any disaster. And through education, make it clear that this limited set of bikes if for Boost members and people in essential occupations.

I don’t know the best solution, and am happy to hear from others. What I do know is that if we come out the other side of the pandemic without having talked about this, we have failed to plan for the future and ensure an effective and equitable transportation system.

Dr. Destiny Thomas (@DrDesThePlanner) posted on Twitter today that if we are serious about bicycling as an alternative during these times, we need to address how to get bikes into the hands of those who don’t have them and can’t afford them. I agree!