NOTE: This article originally appeared in Streetsblog LA; it has been reprinted here with permission.
Following New York City’s successful launch of the Citibike bike share program —yes, successful even with its flaws—it remains disheartening that two of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation, Long Beach and Los Angeles, have yet to have their moment when they can share themselves (although there remains an irony that Portland is hitting many bumps as well).
The promises of delivered bicycles and bike kiosks by certain dates ultimately failed. Now it’s nigh but impossible to get Bike Nation to provide new target launch dates for their Los Angeles and Long Beach programs because they don’t want to disappoint (again).
The reason for the delay in Los Angeles? A (supposed) major company somehow not knowing the advertising parameters set by the second-largest city in the U.S.
Even worse is the criticism and issues that have faced the location it has actually managed to get kiosks into: Anaheim.
Anaheim didn’t receive the amount of kiosks it had been promised; instead of 10, it received three, despite multiple promises before Bike Nation backed out of the city completely. Add to this bicyclists from Anaheim informing me that their kiosk became unworkable during the rain. Yes, we do have inclement weather in Southern California. Even though Bike Nation had a 24-hour service call line where they never received a complaint, they’ve yet to officially address the claim.
“The City of Anaheim did not walk out on the bike share program,” said Ruth Ruiz, spokesperson for the City of Anaheim. “They chose to walk out themselves.”
Granted: there were restrictions in Anaheim—in regard to advertising, permitting costs, and creating a program within a resort town (gotta love Disneyland). For a company that relies on revenue, these restrictions made the program unsustainable in both the short- and long-terms.
This enters a whole new arena of issues: Given Bike Nation continues to offer the costs of its programs, why would it would back out for… costs it knew it had to uphold? Even more, what does this say about Bike Nation’s aforementioned issues with advertising revenue with Los Angeles (the other city, mind you, with which it has formed a we’ll-cover-the-costs agreement, promising kiosk locations everywhere from Venice to Downtown)? Certainly one would hope—keyword being “hope”—that they wouldn’t back out, as they did with Anaheim, because of unforeseen costs that should fall under the umbrella of costs they claim to cover.
One can defend Bike Nation by saying that the program they helped develop in Anaheim was a pilot. In this sense, the City of Anaheim could issue a RFP, following the pilot, for a different bike share program, further proving financial unsustainability from Bike Nation’s perspective. But Bike Nation knew this going into their contract with Anaheim. Meaning, at least from an investment standpoint, they had assumed that Anaheim would be willing to re-invest in them.
The ultimate question is not why Bike Nation walked out on their contract but why they didn’t feel they could fulfill that contract once again (feeling antsy, Long Beach and LA?). Which would also, in turn, cause massive speculation for the rumors going around that they are being looked at by other municipalities (according to many, Bike Nation is still convincing other cities, despite having a single successful launch, that they’re the bikeshare program to go with).
This isn’t to say that Bike Nation hasn’t been working with various city officials; quite the contrary. From the Long Beach end, I know they’ve been working directly with City Manager Pat West—though to what extent remains unclear. After all, Long Beach (from a civic government perspective) has remained relatively cool with the project because it has nothing to lose since Bike Nation is forwarding the funds to create the program.
But even if the argument remains that, should Bike Nation finally speak on the record about its many issues, “bureaucracies” are a problem… Hmm… I’ll be honest and say that I still find many cars in the bike path about this.
If there is one thing that makes a bureaucracy a bureaucracy, outside of outright power, it is the dollar sign. I find it difficult to believe that something which makes the population more happy, the city more accessible, and the area more recognizable, that all this is being held up by a bureaucracy outside of money, well… I find that whole speculation a bit off par. Even more, the dollar sign shouldn’t be a concern in this equation—because Bike Nation has claimed, via contract (at least with Long Beach) that it will take care of the dollar sign.
So, Bike Nation, let’s break down the questions everybody is asking: Are you okay? Where are we at with the country’s largest concentration of people in a single county? Is it a matter of money and if not, who are precisely the sponsors funding your (rather large) endeavor?
And y’know what? Lemme ask a blunt question to Long Beach and Los Angeles: Should we even wait for their answers?