Claremont moves forward with regional bikeshare program

three yellow bikes lined up on a street
A Gotcha bikeshare system would mark the first legal shared mobility vehicles in Claremont since Ofo left the Claremont Colleges in 2018. (Courtesy of Erin Slichter)

A proposal to bring shared e-bikes to Claremont is getting into gear. In addition to approving a three-year pilot to allow shared mobility vehicles like bicycles and scooters on streets in Claremont, the City Council on June 23 endorsed joining a regional bikeshare program coordinated by the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

The SGVCOG’s $4.55 million program, funded by greenhouse gas reduction grants, contracts with the shared mobility company Gotcha to provide at least 840 bikes in 15 participating cities, according to a staff presentation. The City Council initially asked staff to explore joining the program in July 2019.

The move marks a shift from a relatively hostile sentiment towards shared mobility for the city, which issued a moratorium on electric scooters in September 2018, citing concerns about “the speed and the perceived lack of control and disregard for the law displayed by their users.” 

For now, the Gotcha program will only include pedal-assisted electric bicycles, not scooters, although the ordinance allows the city to approve other proposals that may arise over the next three years.

The next step for the bikeshare program is for the city to sign a memorandum of understanding with SGVCOG and Gotcha. The city, working with the Claremont Colleges and the consulting firm Toole Design, has already begun creating a preliminary list of sites for the “mobility mats” — charging stations where the bikes would be returned. 

Staff say it’s not clear how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the planning process, although Gotcha indicates it is “stable and positioned to continue operations.” Some participating cities are already beginning to launch their stations.

One of the program’s key strengths is its reach — locales such as Pomona, La Verne and San Dimas have already signed on, meaning Claremont residents will be able to use the bikes to travel around the San Gabriel Valley.

Gotcha CEO Sean Flood told Streetsblog LA’s SGV Connect podcast last year that the use of e-bikes makes the program a more compelling alternative to car usage.

“[With] traditional bikeshare and normal pedal bikes, the idea of commuting or making this your primary mode of transportation was a little more difficult, unless you were more of a seasoned cyclist,” Flood said. “But now you look at the San Gabriel Valley area … this now provides an option where people could use a bike to connect between adjacent communities and really begin to replace the dependency on a car and tie into mass transit.”

The decision was not unanimous. Mayor Larry Schroeder was the sole ‘no’ vote, recalling he has observed cities with shared mobility options where the vehicles are “strewn all over the place.” 

City Engineer Maria Tipping said the measure orders vendors to collect vehicles left outside station locations, and also provides for punitive measures if they fail to comply.

“The ordinance will provide those steps and mechanisms to address potential nuisance that other communities have experienced,” Tipping said.

Schroeder also noted vendors must move bicycles around from station to station in order to ensure they are uniformly accessible to riders.

“As much as we’re taking vehicles off the road, we’re also using vehicles to redistribute these,” he said.

But other council members expressed confidence in the program, noting the city’s scooter moratorium had given officials time to thoroughly study how to make shared mobility work. 

“The TTC has been working on this safe plan in collaboration regionally and with the Colleges for, sheesh, like, three years, two-and-a-half years now,” council member Jennifer Stark PZ ’98 said. “I’m really excited for these results. I think that this is a terrific model of collaborating with multiple stakeholders to address the needs of our community and of connectivity.”

Gotcha would introduce the first shared bicycles to Claremont since Ofo’s brief presence at the 5Cs. Ofo launched free pilot programs at Pomona College and Pitzer College in spring 2018 with generally high student participation, garnering pushback from some Green Bikes members and others in the biking community. 

But Ofo abruptly left Claremont just eight months after arriving and without ever delivering any bikes to Pitzer, part of a global scale back.

Alexis Reyes, Pomona’s assistant director of sustainability, told TSL at the time that Ofo “showed a need for a short-term and one-way bikeshare program.”

The council’s broader ordinance on shared mobility vehicles lays out broad restrictions for their use, including prohibitions on obstructing sidewalks and crosswalks, requiring vendors to be responsive to city concerns at all times and mandating that vendors obtain city approval.

The latter clause responds to what Stark called a “disruption model” — mobility companies moving scooters into the city without asking permission.

City attorney Alisha Patterson said that behavior was always illegal but that the ordinance clarifies the rules.

“It’s good to have something clear in your code so the public understands what they can and can’t do,” she said.

The Gotcha project with SGVCOG is the only shared mobility program the city is currently exploring, according to Patterson. But if the pilot is successful over the next three years, it’s possible others could come along in tandem.

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