The bike-share program initiated by the city of San Diego could eventually reduce traffic congestion and pollution. That'd be awesome. But DecoBike, the Miami-based company that partnered with the city on this endeavor, has proceeded thus far with the misplaced aplomb and public relations miscues we've come to expect from Team Spanos.
The recent fracas over siting DecoBike docking stations in Pacific Beach (following a long-delayed downtown rollout) prompted me to look back at the 2013 contract between the private company and the city. DecoBike is outlaying more than $7 million of its own money to set up and maintain the bike stands. The city pays nothing, and could make money, but does incur lost revenue. The city stands to make money from a revenue-share agreement on bike rentals, membership fees and advertising on the bikes and the docking stations. After the first year of operation, DecoBike is obligated to a Minimum Guarantee Payment of $25,000 (assuming deployment of 1,800 bikes) to the city. Over the course of an initial 10-year contract that MGP rises to $175,000 per year.
In an email, DecoBike Vice President of Operations David Silverman said current company revenue is proprietary; the city, though, can audit him.
Silverman did reveal that 12 metered spaces (mostly downtown) were removed to make way for bike racks. With tenuous math at play, the city put it in writing that it could lose $1,700-$2,500 per meter/ month (that's easily more than a quarter of a million dollars annually!). A vastly more conservative estimate—based on 12 meters pulling in a maximum of $12.50 a day, six days a week, puts the total potential lost revenue at (up to) $45,000 per year.
San Diego Corporate Partnerships & Development Director Natasha Collura says funds generated by parking meters can be allocated to promote alternative forms of transportation.
The dustup in Pacific Beach involves putting DecoBike racks on the tourist-laden boardwalk. Bike rental shop owners say they met publicly with city representatives for more than a year to try and give input on where the DecoBike racks would be placed—so they wouldn't compete with local businesses, be eyesores or add to congestion.
But some bike shop owners say DecoBike and the city have largely ignored their input. Many in PB are particularly incensed at the bike rack placed on the boardwalk at the foot of the lifeguard tower on Grand Avenue.
Jake Russell, whose family has owned Surf Monkey bike shop for 56 years, recently faced off on NBC-TV's Politically Speaking with DecoBike's Silverman, who was making a rare public appearance.
"I asked him to move [the Grand Avenue rack] and he refused," said Russell.
Russell tells CityBeat he went to several meetings on the topic, but there was no way to voice opposition. He says he was promised by a city official that racks wouldn't be placed on the boardwalk or near Surf Monkey.
Silverman said strategic locations are needed all over town for the sharing concept to succeed, and that "we have exceeded what the city requested when it comes to outreach."
The contract gives the city the right, for safety reasons, to have any bike rack moved one block away within 30 days of notification. It further says if DecoBike does not move the rack the city can do so and force DecoBike to pay back the cost. Another section of the contract says DecoBike and the city must mutually arrive at a decision to move a rack. Pacific Beach is under the purview of District 3 City Councilmember Lorie Zapf.
Her director of communications, Alex Bell, said staff is in the process of setting up meetings to discuss moving the DecoBike racks from the boardwalk.
Zapf's office says it will need more than 30 days to set up meetings and arrive at a new location that would likely be more than one block away from the Grand Avenue site.
DecoBike ought to concede this site, and needs to amp up its overall community outreach. Silverman, or someone, needs to provide more transparency.
The city's effort to provide short-hop, two-wheeled transportation options for city residents is laudable. But the notion—even the whispered perception—that the city has partnered with a private company to compete with mom-and-pop business for a share of the tourist market is unacceptable.
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