Mountain View's Bike Share program, with its seven stations and dozens of rental bicycles, will be taken out in the coming weeks, but it's not clear if a new bike service will be replacing it.
On Tuesday night, the Mountain View City Council kicked the tires of the beleaguered Bike Share service, ultimately deciding the costly program wasn't worth keeping on the city's dime. The bike-rental system, which first came to Mountain View in 2013, was previously funded entirely by grants from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. When those subsidies expired earlier this year, Mountain View and several other Bay Area cities experienced a case of sticker shock.
Low ridership numbers for Mountain View's system meant local taxpayers would be footing the bill for about $20 for every bike trip. In May, five out of seven council members reluctantly agreed to pay $160,000 to Motivate, the private company behind the system, in order to keep the bicycle service functioning through November. City officials described it as a temporary measure to buy time to figure out a better service tailored to draw in more riders.
An early template of that improved system -- call it Bike Share 2.0 -- arrived in front of the City Council at their Tuesday meeting. The plan is for Mountain View to follow the lead of Palo Alto, which negotiated with Motivate earlier this month for a new system built around "smart" bicycles.
Designed by the New York City company SoBi, these newer bikes would be connected via wireless networking and GPS systems that would create a "geo-fence," allowing the bicycles to only be used within a specific territory. Unlike the older Bike Share system, the Sobi program doesn't require docking stations, and riders will reportedly have far more options for where they can leave the bikes.
Starting early next year, Palo Alto plans to launch its new system with 350 of the new bikes, which are expected to cost about $1.1 million. As part of its deal, Palo Alto city officials insisted that similar pricing terms be offered to other Peninsula cities under the idea that the new service would be stronger if more cities signed up to participate.
As Mountain View staff presented plans Tuesday to remove the older Bike Share equipment, they also recommended the city begin its own negotiations to join the new smart-bike system. They suggested tentative plans to pursue a similar 350-bike system at a $1.1 million price -- or about $3,000 per bike. Staff members warned that these numbers would likely change.
But more that half the City Council found the concept half-baked. Even though the smart bikes had some new features, the system was essentially the same as the current underwhelming service, said Councilman John McAlister.
"What would we be doing that we didn't do last time that would make this more successful?" he said. "We're going to go out and make an agreement, but we have no idea how we're going to make it successful."
McAlister and Councilman Lenny Siegel both signaled that before they gave the go-ahead to enter negotiations, they wanted more details, such as where the new bike hub would be located and who would be the target customers.
City Manager Dan Rich responded with a forceful defense of the new program, saying it would create an "omnipresent" bike service that could saturate all the city's neighborhoods. City staff wanted to begin negotiations while figuring out a strategy for Mountain View, he said.
While the council unanimously agreed to take out the old Bike Share system, a motion to enter negotiations for an upgraded service failed in a 2-3 vote, with only Mayor Pat Showalter and Councilman Chris Clark in support. Councilmen Ken Rosenberg and Mike Kasperzak were both absent.
Siegel made a counter motion to direct staff to draw up a conceptual plan for the new service, but that motion also failed in a 2-3 split, with Councilman John Inks, Showalter and Clark opposed.
Much like the last time the Bike Share issue came up, the City Council was stuck at an impasse with little choice but to revisit the issue later. The council tabled the issue until the Nov. 1 meeting.
Unless the council decides otherwise at its next meeting, the current Bike Share equipment will be removed at the end of November.