Tariffs, tech issues put brakes on North County coastal bike-share program

A one-year pilot program to rent Gotcha e-bikes in Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar is on hold because of tariffs on Chinese products.
(Gotcha Ride LLC)

Unforeseen difficulties, including new tariffs on Chinese-made products, have put the brakes on a bike-sharing program that was scheduled to launch this summer in Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar.

“Gotcha has delayed the launch of its bike share system in North San Diego County due to supply chain issues, as well as some unforeseen technical difficulties with our hardware and software,” said Caroline Passe, the company’s director of public relations,” by email last week. “We apologize for the delay and are working diligently to expedite the progress to get the system off the ground.”

The South Carolina-based company has relocated two full-time employees to North County and hired a local operations manager to implement the bike-share system, Passe said. A temporary hold has been placed on other positions until a launch date is solidified.

City staffers are working diligently with Gotcha to resolve the issues, which could take months, said Crystal Najera, Encinitas climate action program administrator and a coordinator of the project.

Gotcha announced in June it was preparing to start a one-year pilot program with 500 GPS-enabled e-bikes in the three coastal cities as early as mid-July.

Officials from Carlsbad, Oceanside and Camp Pendleton also were involved in the pilot program discussions. Carlsbad opted out, Oceanside decided to wait for the results of the pilot project and Camp Pendleton has not announced a decision.

“We just learned last week that the tariffs ... are affecting the supply chain for the parts they use to assemble the bikes in the United States,” Najera said. “Even their communications with their suppliers are tenuous at this point.”

Najera said the company plans to provide the cities with an update later this week.

“There’s no clear date on when they could launch,” she said. “It could take a couple months to sort it out. They didn’t want to promise anything.”

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear announced the delay in her regular newsletter emailed to residents.

“This is a major disappointment that is directly linked to the U.S. President’s trade war,” Blakespear said.

The coastal cities chose Gotcha because of the company’s focus on customer service, high-quality equipment and a clutter-free approach to the programs it runs in other cities, the mayor said.

Gotcha operates more than 50 online local transportation systems in dozens of states using electric bikes, scooters, adult tricycles and cars based on a single propriety app-based platform.

The app-based rentals are widely seen as short-distance transportation that can reduce air pollution, promote public health, control traffic and lessen parking problems. They are sometimes cited as a solution to the “first-last-mile” problem that prevents more people from using mass transit services such as the Coaster commuter train.

Dockless bicycles emerged about two years ago and flooded downtown San Diego with their colorful frames. E-bikes and e-scooters soon followed. In some areas the sudden surplus of wheels created sidewalk obstacles and led to vandalism, prompting new fees, speed limits and rules for parking and education.

Gotcha uses a hybrid system designed to reduce the number of abandoned or surplus bicycles. The company plans to have local employees supervise the rentals and maintain the equipment, and offers financial incentives for renters to return the bikes to the busiest rental spaces, called hubs.

The interchangeable batteries will be recharged by company employees at a central location. The electric motor only operates when the rider is pedaling, and the bikes have a top speed of 20 mph.

The company will share the information it collects in its GPS system with the cities in which it operates. That information could be used by the city to help plan bike lanes, parking facilities and other transportation needs.

Rental rates have not been set, but people would be able to pay for each ride or buy monthly or annual memberships.

— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune