STOCKTON - Bike Stockton, an app-based electronic bikeshare program, is hitting the brakes just five months after its launch due to widespread vandalism and theft of bikes.
The pilot project rolled out in April, but its e-bikes have been plagued since the summer with escalating crime. Bike Stockton has now suspended its operations citywide, with the exception of a few remaining bikes on the University of the Pacific campus.
"This difficult, but necessary decision came after much thought and consideration about what was best for everyone involved, especially loyal Bike Stockton members. This is a pilot project and we knew there would be discovery and learning along the way," said Bike Stockton leaders in a statement.
The San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) spearheaded the effort with Bike Stockton as its vendor.
SJCOG board member and Stockton City Councilmember Kimberly Warmsley says the call to pull the plug on the e-bike program ultimately came from Bike Stockton. It is a decision she is upset with.
"I'm very disappointed in that. I would have liked to work with them to come up with a strategy or plan," Warmsley said. "We were at the halfway mark of really making an imprint. We were just about to launch more bikes into the community."
At its peak, Warmsley says Bike Stockton had up to 75 bikes available for use. It is the only e-bike-sharing program in the city.
For SJCOG, the goal with Bike Stockton from the beginning was to provide accessible and affordable transportation to community members, especially in underserved areas. The bike-share app offered cheap rides at just 15 cents a minute, even offering an annual pass for just $40. People like Lorenzo Garcia, who is homeless in Stockton, used the bikes on a regular basis.
"I used it a lot, as necessary, to get me around," said Garcia.
He was sad to see the e-bike hubs in downtown Stockton shut down and empty, and he was even more upset to hear the reason was vandalism and theft.
"That's just messed up," Garcia said. "They put it out there for people, to help them. To assist them if they need to go somewhere instead of waiting for a bus all day."
Students CBS13 spoke with at the University of the Pacific (UOP) were not shocked to hear the program had been shut down, outside if the few bikes remaining on their campus.
"It's not surprising. A lot of people that do need it can't use it now because of like, the people in Stockton, so," said Nayla Gama-Alvarez, a UOP freshman who grew up in Stockton.
"That's really upsetting. The fact that people do rely on this type of transportation is really sad that they don't have it anymore," said junior, Addison McGowan.
Warmsley says the Bike Stockton program was a hit across the city before it became a target.
"Unfortunately people were vandalizing them and stealing the electronic battery of the bike," said Warmsley, adding that the crime wave peaked in the summer and appeared to be organized.
E-bike rideshare programs have been taking off in big cities for years, including Sacramento and the Bay Area.
Stockton City Manager Harry Black wants to see a solution.
"Bike-share programs are great amenities for communities. However, this is not a City of Stockton initiative but is a joint effort by San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD) and San Joaquin Council of Governments. Unfortunately, the program is in jeopardy due to a contract dispute between RTD and Shared Mobility, Inc. We hope that the issues can be resolved and a program can proceed," Black told CBS13 on Tuesday.
Warmsley agrees and wants to overcome the challenges of the program and take it for another spin, even if it means finding another e-bike vendor.
"Stockton deserves its fair share of e-bikes. It was a great program and I'm hoping to bring something back to the city," said Warmsley.
Bike Stockton declined an interview with CBS13 Tuesday, but leaders said in a statement on the program's website that they share the desire to bring the program back to the 209.
"Bike Stockton is determined to redesign the program so that Stockton residents can take advantage of e-bikes as a transportation option. We appreciate your patience while we work to redesign the e-bike program," the statement reads.
SJCOG serves as the lead agency for the project in partnership with several local organizations including, RTD, Institute for Local Government, Míocar, Bike Stockton, Mobility Development Group, Shared Mobility Inc., Sigala Inc., and UC Davis Institute for Transportation Studies.
For more information about the service, visit bikestockton.org.
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