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SD bike-sharing program to roll out in January

Anyone traveling around downtown San Diego in the past few weeks has probably noticed new solar-powered kiosks with from 10 to 20 bicycle racks. These bike stations are being set up throughout the city as part of San Diego’s new bike-sharing program.

The stations will be activated at the beginning of January and riders will be able to rent bikes to travel around the city.

“The concept is, basically, you can pick up a bike at any station and drop it off at any station throughout the entire city 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” David Silverman, vice president of operations for DecoBike LLC, said.

Florida-based DecoBike was selected by the San Diego City Council in July 2013 to operate, maintain and fully fund the bike-sharing program. The city sent out a request for proposals and selected DecoBike from three candidates.

The company's bikes are similar to beach cruisers with one fixed speed, front and rear brakes, a bell on the handlebar and a basket.

“Right now, we are in the middle of the [bike station] installation process,” Silverman said. “We have about 49 on the ground and once we have about 80 completed in the downtown, East Village, North Park, South Park areas, we plan to deploy the bikes. Then we will continue to install [stations] in the beach communities.”

In all, there will be 180 stations and more than 1,500 bikes across the city of San Diego.

A rendering of a bike-sharing station by DecoBike. When San Diego's bike-sharing program is fully implemented there will be 180 stations and more than 1,500 bikes across the city. Courtesy image

DecoBike, which was founded in Miami, is privately funded and doesn’t use taxpayer dollars for setting up bike-sharing programs. Silverman said more than $8 million has been allocated to start the bike-sharing program in San Diego.

“One of the interesting things about the DecoBike program is that it didn’t require any funding from the city,” said Natasha Collura, director of corporate partnerships and development for the city of San Diego.

The city also liked DecoBike’s track record in Florida, fully operating the program, providing all the maintenance, and supplying the entire infrastructure.

The city will receive a minimum guarantee and a percentage of revenues collected by DecoBike each year during its 10-year lease.

“The percentage of funding that we receive from the advertising portion of the DecoBike program will go back to the city bike program,” Collura said. “The revenue that we receive from membership and user fees will go back to the city’s general fund.”

The bike-sharing program is part of the city’s bicycle program, which launched in early 2013. The goal of the program is to implement a bike master plan and increase ridership in San Diego.

The city has already implemented "sharrows" — shared lane markings — on streets, replaced parking spaces with colored bike racks, eliminated a few car lanes and restriped lanes for bike use only.

Choosing where to put the 180 bike-sharing stations was a lengthy process. Several factors were taken into account, including getting comment from the community and city.

Linda Marabian, deputy director of the transportation, engineering and operations division for the city of San Diego, said city traffic engineers evaluated the proposed stations from a safety perspective before installation.

Marabian added that the city tried to minimize the removal of street parking, while also comply with ADA requirements and make sure the bike stations do not conflict with business storefronts before installation.

DecoBike has a warehouse on Pacific Coast Highway that acts as San Diego headquarters with offices for customer service, bike storage, a maintenance area and repair shop, and delivery trucks.

“We have a bike-rebalancing team that reports here and retrieves the bikes and deploys the bikes and puts them on the streets,” Silverman said. “They are constantly rebalancing the stations from 9 a.m. to midnight. So if a station is full or empty they have an iPad and they get an alert.”

The actual bike stations are never more than half-filled, to allow spaces for drop-off.

DecoBike’s rentals start at $5 for 30 minutes and $7 for an hour. There are also $15 one-day and $35 one-week rentals.

Users can also access bikes through monthly and yearly memberships ranging from $20 to $199, depending on the membership level. The first 1,500 members in San Diego will get a free helmet.

“We base our success on a balance of membership and casual users,” Silverman said. “We try to have the stations and transportation hubs so they can get from point A to point B, but as well as to points of interest throughout the city — whether it be beaches, movie theaters or shopping centers — to cater to that visitor who might not have a rental car and can get around the city and explore on a bicycle.”

DecoBike San Diego will have close to 50 employees once it’s fully launched and has about half of that number on staff now.

Silverman said he hopes success in San Diego will lead to bike-sharing programs in other parts of the county, along with partnerships at colleges and universities, and corporate sponsors.

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