Santa Barbara’s Electric Bike Program Not at Full Speed One Year After Launch | Local News

The future of electric bike docking stations on the State Street promenade is unclear, a little more than a year after the Santa Barbara program was launched. 

Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon raised the issue at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I am still really concerned about the mixed messaging of having docking stations on State Street, that is now a promenade, and we don’t really want people riding that fast on their e-bikes on the promenade,” Sneddon said.

She said the overall issue of e-bikes on State Street also needs to be addressed.

“It’s just a different world than it was when we initially starting putting them there,” Sneddon said. “The circulation patterns have changed.”

The conversation ensued during the City of Santa Barbara’s annual report on the controversial electric bike program.

The program was launched in January 2021, and so far, according to mobility coordinator Samuel Furtner, the system is at 50% capacity and the city has yet to install the solar-powered kiosks it promised to allow people without smartphones to use a card or cash to rent the bikes.

The city partnered with private company BCycle on the electric bike project.

Furtner said that after one year, the city has installed 50 dock stations and 140 bikes. Those bikes have traveled 320,500 miles, with more than 81,000 trips by 15,000 riders. The city would eventually like to install 250 e-bikes and up to 500 docks.

Riders are able to buy annual memberships for $150, for unlimited 30-minute rides, and monthly memberships for $30 for unlimited 30-minute rides. The city has a “low-income” membership structure of $25 per year for “eligible users.” The cost to walk up and rent a bike is $7 for 30 minutes, compared with $20 to $25 per hour rates with competitors on the private market.

Furtner also said that about 100 bikes have not been parked correctly or have been abandoned or stolen. Three of them have not been recovered. The batteries have been stripped out of 11 of the bikes, and about 50 others have experienced “minor” damages. 

Software issues also contributed to some “down time” when the bikes were inoperable. Furtnered reported three collisions, but no details on them. Furtner also said that a “chip delay” prevented the kiosk from being installed, but later in his report said the city wanted to focus on the installation of the docks and the bike program as reasons for not erecting the kioks yet. 

The program hit bumps in the road from the beginning. The city staff bypassed a design review of the bikes and docks by the Historic Landmarks Commission in an attempt to speed up the program. Later, when the Planning Commission approved the project, it did so without knowing about the solar-powered kiosks. In a breakdown in communication, BCycle assumed that the kiosks would hook up to the city’s electrical supply. When then-transportation manager Rob Dayton found that out, he informed BCycle that the city could not dig up the sidewalk streets to provide electricity to the kiosks.

So, BCycle came back with a solar-powered tower.

Sneddon called the overall program a success, but leaned into the idea of moving the docks off State Street and onto side streets. Jessica Grant, the city’s interim public works downtown manager, said the issue about whether to move the docks off of State Street is part of a larger conversation.

“State Street is the spine network of the city as indicated in the bicycle master plan,” Grant said. “It made complete sense to have it on our spine network. Unfortunately, we have space constraints on the zero blocks to put additional stations there.” 

Activist Anna Marie Gott noted the staff’s inconsistencies in explaining the kiosk delay. She said the city needs to move fast to install the 9-foot-tall kiosks, which allow people to use cash and buy a card without having a smartphone, to increase equity and inclusion.

“We should actually be putting these kiosks on the Westside and Eastside where people are going to have less access to smartphones,” Gott said. 

City Councilwoman Alejandra Guiterrez, who represents Santa Barbara’s Eastside, also wants to see more bikes on the Eastside and Westside.

“I have seen a lot of my community members take advantage of the bikes,” Gutierrez said. “I would actually like to see more in my district. I have family that live in the Westside . . . and there’s never bikes available.”

— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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