After failing to advance its bike-share program last year, Palo Alto is preparing to try again.
The City Council agreed on Monday night to a yearlong extension of the city's nascent bike-share and electric scooters program, which it had initially approved in March 2018. According to city staff, the one-year pilot program had failed to advance because of lack of staff resources, particularly in transportation planning.
According to a report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment, the city has seen interest from three vendors, though staff had not issued permits because of the looming expiration date. By extending the program for another year, the city hopes to finally make the type of breakthrough in bike-sharing that has largely eluded the city in recent years.
The program is a sharp departure from Palo Alto's prior efforts, which largely relied on partnerships between the city and a single vendor, with a heavy investment of public funds in infrastructure. In 2016, the city discontinued its existing 37-bike program, which was administered by the company Motivate, because of poor ridership numbers (the bikes were used an average of 0.17 times per day, according to staff).
Officials later tried to launch a larger program, with 350 GPS-equipped bikes, in 2017 but that effort also fizzled when negotiations between the city and the vendor hit a wall.
The new program, by contrast, takes a more free-market approach. It doesn't rely on any particular company. Rather, it allows any vendor to apply for permits to bring their bikes and electric scooters to the city.
The pilot program does not have a limit on the number of bikes or electric scooters in the system (contrary to staff's original recommendation) but it does have guidelines that prohibit, among other things, the parking of bikes and scooters in ways that block pedestrian areas, access to buildings, bike racks or news racks.
Much like the program approved last year, this one will stretch for a year, with an expiration date of March 31, 2020. Until then, staff plans to evaluate the program and assess the effectiveness of the vendors.
The council approved the extension of the program unanimously on its consent calendar, with no discussion.