About a year ago, Mountain View leaders faced a stark choice -- pay $1.1 million or lose the city's Bike Share program. The rental-bike stations sprinkled throughout town were popular in concept, but they struggled with low ridership, and it took outside grant funding to keep the program afloat.
Last year, by just one vote, the City Council decided to let the Bike Share program die off in the hopes that a better service might be around the corner. In hindsight, that appears to have been the right move.
In a meeting last week, the City Council learned that a suite of new bike-sharing companies were willing to set up shop in Mountain View at essentially no cost to the city.
"It's become evident that the Bike Share industry and business model are undergoing sustantial changes," said Dawn Cameron, Mountain View's assistant public works director. “We have companies knocking on our door saying they'll be here tomorrow if you want them to.”
Technology is the main reason for why these newer bike-sharing services don't need a government subsidy. The previous Bike Share system relied on docking stations built around the city, which required costly maintenance and regular redistribution of bikes.
That business model is being ditched by a fleet of newer companies such as LimeBike, BluGoGo and Spin. These “smart bike” companies rely heavily on GPS-equipped bicycles that don't require docking stations and can be rented out by anyone with a smartphone.
This new generation of rental bikes are self-locking, and they can either be "corralled" into designated parking areas or just left wherever is convenient around town. The cost would likely range from $0.50 to $2 per half-hour to rent one, Cameron said.
Perhaps most significant, these companies don't need any money from the city, aside from some basic oversight costs. This finanicing system could be hard to sustain in the long-term, but for now it seemed like a pretty good deal, city officials said.
The City Council supported the idea of designing a new one-year pilot program for these new Bike Share companies. Each company that wants to set up shop in Mountain View will need to provide at least 200 bicycles. City staff members explained that they would work with neighboring cities to prepare a regional approach for the new bike-sharing program in the coming months.