JUMP bikes in Santa Cruz.
(Claire Gallogly/City of Santa Cruz)
Environment

Santa Cruz explores new bike share program, with plans for countywide coverage

Last year, Santa Cruz’s popular electric JUMP bikes disappeared? But a new bike share program could be in Santa Cruz by early 2022 — and its reach could go well beyond the city limits.

The bright red electric JUMP bikes that were once omnipresent on Santa Cruz streets are gone forever — but the city is now officially exploring vendors for a new bike share program, and is partnering with UC Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Watsonville and Capitola so that any future program will cover a wider region.

The JUMP bike program, which was active in Santa Cruz from June 2018 to March 2020, was widely popular: During its brief existence, riders in Santa Cruz completed more than 683,000 trips totaling more than 1.3 million miles. Each bike was used on average more than four times per day, and the average trip was 1.9 miles.

A nearly two-mile bike ride “is a really important metric,” said Claire Gallogly, transportation planner for the city of Santa Cruz, “because we do think of that in terms of replacing those short car trips.”

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But the program fell apart when JUMP was acquired first by Uber and then sold off to Lime, a company that also offers electric scooters.

After the acquisition, scooters would have been included in the contract with Lime, substantially changing the agreement so that “We didn’t feel like in good faith we could continue on with that,” Gallogly said. “There were other vendors that offered [scooters] that hadn’t been able to compete for the public contract.”

So the 500 or so JUMP bikes around town vanished, never to be seen again.

But now the city is moving forward with a “request for information” from potential bike share vendors, an intermediate step preceding a formal request for proposals. City officials are asking vendors to share information about bike share programs that they could make available in Santa Cruz County. The preference would be for an all e-bike fleet.

This request is being made as a potential regional partnership — a significant change from the previous program which restricted the bikes to Santa Cruz city limits.

That’s because bike share programs typically have high fees if you finish your bike ride outside of the permitted area.

“The trend we would like to see is [for] the convenience of the bike share system to replace some cars on the road,” said Katie Herlihy, community development director for the city of Capitola. ”That’s one of the main reasons we’re collaborating so that you can ride the bikes further.”

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Gallogly said that some e-bike vendors may also offer electric scooters, mopeds, or other options, which local officials will evaluate.

But both Gallogly and Herlihy said that scooters are generally unpopular among local transportation planners.

Scooters are a contentious issue in Santa Cruz County. In September 2018, Santa Cruzans woke up one morning to find that, overnight, dozens of electric scooters had been deposited throughout the city. They arrived via Bird, an electric scooter-share company.

“They sent us emails saying, you may have noticed that we’ve started an operation,” Gallogly said. “It really did leave a bad taste.”

A protracted fight ensued, eventually culminating in the city writing a moratorium on electric scooters into the municipal code, though Gallogly said it “can be revisited.”

“All our partners are worried about the impacts of scooters and other technology,” Herlihy said. “We’re willing to look at it for this [request for information], but our goal is really for a bike share system.”

The soonest the next batch of shared e-bikes could be on the streets is probably early 2022, Gallogly said, but she is hopeful it would be in place by the end of 2022.

Updates:

9:11 AM, May. 06, 2021: An earlier version of this story identified Claire Gallogly’s title as transportation director for the city of Santa Cruz. Her actual title is transportation planner.