Electric bike share program coming to Encinitas

The Encinitas sign above South Coast Highway 101.
(Karen Billing)

A bike share program featuring easy-to-use Electra bikes is poised to launch in Encinitas this fall and could later expand to other North County cities.

BCycle L.L.C., a subsidiary of the Trek bicycle company, won contract approval Wednesday, May 12 from the Encinitas City Council to start a one-year, pilot project. It’ll replace a previous plan for a regional bike share program operated by Gotcha Ride, which was terminated by Gotcha amid the coronavirus pandemic last year.

Council members said that the new proposal offered benefits the old one did not. BCycle is going to be using electric-power-assist bikes from Electra, a business that has its headquarters in Encinitas and is another subsidiary of Trek company.

“The story here seems even better,” Councilman Joe Mosca said, later adding, “I’m over the moon with this, thinking it’s a really awesome deal.”

Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze, an avid cyclist who’s campaigned for bike safety education programs and bike lane improvements, said she had tried out the bikes and found them very easy to use without reading the instructions.

Councilman Tony Kranz said he expected the pilot program would successfully spread to neighboring communities after it concludes. BCycle appears to have learned from the mistakes made by other bike share companies and other communities, including San Diego, he said.

Company Executive Director Morgan Ramaker told the council that BCycle initially plans to place 100 bikes and 170 oval-shaped slots to “dock” them at 10 locations in Encinitas, primarily along the Coast Highway 101. All bikes will need to be returned to the company’s docking stations where their batteries will be recharged. People can’t just leave the bikes scattered about on city sidewalks when they’re done using them.

The company’s contract with the city of Encinitas also requires company employees to respond within two hours to any complaints related to the bikes, city employees said. People who rent the bikes must be at least 18 years old, and the bikes can’t go more than 17 mph. Exceed that limit and the bike stops providing its electric-assist pedal function.

BCycle, which operates bike share programs in Madison, Wis., and Broward County, Fla., among other places, will be modeling its Encinitas program on one it started in Santa Barbara earlier this year, Ramaker said. People can either borrow the bikes on a one-time basis at a cost of $7 for a 30-minute ride, or they can become a member and get some trips for free. Membership costs $30 a month, or $150 a year, and it gives the participant access to an unlimited number of 60-minute trips.

Plans call for the company to hire a local team to manage the bike program and establish the charging locations in the next few months, Ramaker said. Community outreach efforts will be conducted this summer and the program will launch in September, she said.

In 2018, the Encinitas City Council supported the idea of creating a regional bike share program with Del Mar, Solana Beach, Carlsbad, Oceanside, the San Diego Association of Governments and the North County Transit District. The goal was to try to obtain one bike share vendor who could serve a large area, making it more convenient for renters and reducing conflicts between cities, a city staff report notes.

Encinitas acted as the lead agency in trying to put that arrangement together. The city ultimately reached a deal with Gotcha Ride in May 2019, but bike part supply issues related to new import tariffs as well as the pandemic’s spread in 2020 ultimately led Gotcha to terminate the agreement last fall before any bikes were deployed on city streets, the staff report states.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune