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Santa Monica's Breeze Bike Share Up in the Air
By Jorge Casuso
November 14, 2019 -- The future of Santa Monica's Breeze bike share program -- LA County's first shared micro-mobility effort -- is up in the air as private firms corner the growing market.
On Tuesday, the City Council discussed ways to salvage the program that has provided more than 915,000 rides since its launch in November 2018 -- from finding a different operating model to changing the makeup of the City owned fleet.
After private companies boosted their electric bike and scooter fleets last year, Breeze ridership shrunk to 3 percent of the paid micro-mobility trips, and the program, financed with rider fees and a Hulu sponsorship, fell into the red.
"This forces the question of whether continuation of the Breeze model justifies increasing financial subsidies," staff wrote in their report to the Council.
To stay afloat until the current contract ends next November, the City will need to pay $255,000 in subsidies.
"Breeze has been a great program," said Council member Sue Himmelrich, "but I do not want to be operating it and lose money."
Council member Greg Morena believes the program -- which has reduced the number of short local car trips -- is worth rethinking.
"Why doesn't Breeze work?" is a question Morena said needs to be addressed. "What about the competition is making Breeze fail?
"If there are better operators out there, let them operate it," he said.
One answer Morena suggested was to electrify the fleet and remove the parking docks, a model used by the operators under a shared mobility pilot program that are driving Breeze out.
Council member Winterer suggested forging a public-private partnership, while Mayor Gleam Davis would like to explore tailoring the program for a different population that doesn't use e-scooters and e-bikes.
One answer, Davis said, could be tricycles with cargo compartments that the elderly and grocery shoppers can use to make short inexpensive trips.
According to staff, Breeze "remains the most affordable of shared micro-mobility options."
The per minute rate for Breeze is 12 cents, compared to 23 to 30 cents, plus a $1 fee for the first minute, for privately operated e-scooters and e-bikes.
While the City controls the rates for Breeze, staff said, those charged by the private operators "may increase, given the failure of these companies to operate profitably at their current rates."
But keeping Breeze afloat won't be easy.
The program can participate in Metro Bike Share, but that would "require a multi-million dollar upfront investment and on-going cost to the City," staff said.
Or, the City can shift the program to rely on private operators for all publicly-available bike share and "risk that the operators exit the market suddenly and have customers without service."
Staff noted that "despite the need for subsidies, many other cities continue to operate and invest in bike share programs."
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