Over 70 cities across the U.S. now offer bike-share systems for residents and visitors. I was surprised and proud to see my hometown of Buffalo, NY on bikshare.com's tally of bike-share programs across the United States. Buffalo - a city that sees 80 inches of snow, 36 inches of rain, and only about 155 days of sun every year. With an average of 285 sunny days per year in L.A. (130 days more than Buffalo for those keeping score), I wonder how snow-banked Buffalo beat L.A. to the chase of launching this piece of essential urban infrastructure.
The launch of L.A.’s bike-share program this year is not its first attempt at integrating a bike-share program into our urban system. L.A.’s last plan back in 2012 was squashed due to funding issues related to a city advertising contract with CBS Outdoor and JCDecaux. The contract restricts any advertising on “street furniture," and according to a city Bureau of Street Services spokeswoman, the proposed bike-share program falls into that category. With advertising off the menu of funding options, no revenue stream was left to support the contractor's plan. The original bike-share contractor Bike Nation was then forced to withdraw and abandon the plan, according to the LA Downtown News.
The new plan will launch the bike-share program mid-2016, and will be funded largely by the host city (65%) and supplemented by the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (a.k.a. Metro) (35%). The initial two-year contract is fully funded at $11-million, awarded to Bicycle Transit Systems, Inc. and partner BCycle. The sustainable transportation program will kick off with a 65-station pilot program consisting of more than 1,000 bikes.
So, without advertising and sponsorship revenue for this program, how will L.A. ensure this urban infrastructure investment will not also fail due to funding issues? The overall funding plan is yet to be hashed out, but $3.8 million of ExpressLanes tolling revenue (approved by Metro’s Board) and bike-share system users are two of the determined sources, says Streetsblog LA. However, the financing structure puts major pressure on the users, making single-ride fees twice the base fare of a one-way Metro bus trip at $3.50 – a cost that makes the program “set to fail,” according to the LA Times.
Advertising has made programs such as New York City’s CitiBike and Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare possible. Advertisement in bike-share programs can also be found close to home, in Santa Monica, which has recently implemented a new 500-bike share program sponsored by Hulu, launched in November 2015. The bike-share sponsor employs over 500 employees in Santa Monica, making it an excellent match as a partner. Santa Monica’s Breeze Bikes have been wholeheartedly embraced by the community, with already over 2,000 members, 8,760 trips, and 17,887 miles travelled to date.
L.A.’s bike-share program is considered a piece of our sustainable transportation program. Luckily for L.A., the State of California offers a Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant Program, provided by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Metro and the city of L.A. have yet to discuss pursuit of grant opportunities like this one for L.A.'s bike-share program, though it may be a funding source that proves to be an important component of the bike-share's overall funding picture. The Caltrans program sets out to “provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.”
Bike-share programs tout benefits including:
- Faster local travel and enhanced mobility;
- Improved community health (stress reduction, weight loss);
- Improved street safety;
- Economic benefits; and
- Support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
A key to making this program a truly viable transportation option is to diversify the revenue stream. In order to keep the program afloat longer than the initial two-year contract, several financial steps must be taken. Options include local voter-approved funding measures, regional improvement program funds, and federal investment in urban infrastructure capital projects and/or safety programs. Public-private partnerships (excluding sponsorship/advertisement agreements) could also play a key role in sustaining the program, for example partnerships with healthcare providers, foundations, and nonprofit organizations. Another option includes crowdfunding efforts for portions of the program, similar to the modest crowdfunding campaign Kansas City is currently working on.
With Metro ridership down 10% over the past ten years, solutions that make public transportation easier to use is critical. The first-mile/last-mile deliberation (how transit users get to and from bus and rail stations) is cited as a reason more people are not using public transportation. The proposed bike-share program has the potential to address this issue. A sustainable, replicable funding strategy must be identified to realize the city's vision to expand bike-share into communities across the region including Pasadena, Echo Park, Long Beach, North Hollywood and Venice (see Curbed LA's map and timeline). All the while, the city of L.A. and Metro will need to be strengthening efforts to improve safety of L.A.'s streets in order to encourage motorists to leave the keys behind and grab the helmet instead.
The bright side is that fundraising requires advocacy and collaboration. Two pieces of the bike-share puzzle that will help L.A. bring its urban infrastructure into the 21st century and closer to a truly sustainable transportation network.
What would make bike riding in L.A. more appealing to you? What role does development of L.A.’s bike culture play in promoting bike-share use for more than just tourism and recreation?
Do you think crowdfunding has a role in supporting public projects like urban bike-share programs? What companies come to mind that might be good matches for supporting L.A.'s bike-share program? Post your thoughts in the comments below!
Credits: Images by Alyssa Curran. Data linked to sources.