A DecoBike station on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach near Crystal Pier. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Bike rental shops in Pacific and Mission beaches say their business has unquestionably been hurt by competition from Florida-based DecoBike, which operates bike share stations citywide, including two controversial ones on Pacific Beach's boardwalk.
Matt Gardner, longtime owner of four rental outlets, Cheap Rentals and Mission Beach Rentals at Belmont in Mission Beach, claims he's lost $60,000 in sales over the past year due to DecoBike competition.
“That's a big hit to take,” Gardner said. “We never had a loss in (rental) numbers ever from the previous year until DecoBike came in.”
Jake Russell, whose family has owned Surf Monkey, at 853 Grand Ave., for generations, pointed out “it's difficult to break out” the actual numbers on just how much his business is down from bike share competition. But he added, “Obviously, we've been impacted.”
Russell noted a nearby bike share station, located across Grand a few hundred yards up the street from Surf Monkey, “gets very little play” from customers, mostly tourists who Russell claims, “couldn't find my store.”
DecoBike signed a 10-year contract with the city of San Diego and spent $8 million setting up bike share infrastructure citywide. After more than a year of delays, DecoBike opened its first rental stations in January 2015.
And the attitude of many beach residents toward the bike share company has not been positive.
“I am adamantly opposed to the DecoBike corporation putting their monstrous kiosks on the boardwalk,” said Jennifer Tandy, a community activist and former honorary PB mayor. “All Pacific Beach and Mission Beach groups vehemently oppose the kiosks on the boardwalk, as it is in direct unfair competition with the established local bike-rental businesses, obstructs disabled and general-public access, blocks the stunning views and does not benefit the community of PB at all.”
Melinda Pederson, administrative manger for DecoBike San Diego, has defended the company's bike share locations, including the two existing ones on the PB boardwalk.
“Ridership revenue and advertising/sponsorship revenue are the only sources of income for the bike share,” Pederson said. “For this reason, it's very important that we have visible stations in desirable locations that generate high ridership.
“We do have quite a bit of local ridership,” Pederson continued. “Most riders, both visitors and locals, use the bike share for short trips purchased at the station.”
Both beach bike-rental owners Russell and Gardner concur in the view that bike share, though it may be intended to be the final leg of a mass-transit commute back and forth to work, remains primarily a recreational indulgence for tourists.
“The county grand jury's report says 77 percent of DecoBike's ride sharing is for recreational use,” said Gardner. “The city of San Diego has no business renting bikes on a recreational basis that compete with local bike shops.”
Gardner added that bike-rental mom and pops, like many other beach-oriented businesses, are geared toward tourists and the prime summer season.
“We make about 40 percent of our income from June through August,” he said.
Russell takes the argument even further claiming DecoBike's business model “is an utter failure.”
Beyond that, Russell said, “What really grinds me is their top-down, not bottom-up business model,” wherein the city comes in and “tells you (business) this is what you have to do — whether it works or not.”
“They're trying to put me out of business,” claimed Russell, adding, “So what we (rental owners) need to do is organize and get the word out” about DecoBike's ongoing expansion plans citywide.
“I think DecoBike's business model is flawed and going to fail on its own,” concluded Russell, noting bike rentals “are an industry in PB.”
“We (Surf Monkey) have more than 50 employees operating on leased, taxable property,” Russell said. “We probably do more business here in PB than DecoBike does throughout the entire city.”
Gardner pointed out something's got to give soon on the DecoBike vs. local bike rental issue.
“It was a bait-and-switch tactic that the city fell for believing that bike share was good for our green economy,” said Gardner. “Meanwhile, I'm losing money and my businesses are hurting.”
Gardner warned that, “If the city continues to turn a blind eye to this, then we (rental owners) may be forced to do a class-action lawsuit. We all have grounds for it against the city.”