Bike-Share Program At Risk of Folding; Leaders Cite Scooter Trend Among Factors

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Existing Swell Cycle stations now have the ability to dock the new E-bikes throughout San Antonio.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Bike Share, previously Swell Cycle, could shut down after title sponsor Southwest General Hospital pulled out of their sponsorship agreement early.

San Antonio Bike Share could shut down after its title sponsor Southwest General Hospital pulled out of an agreement a year before it was supposed to end, the organization’s leaders told the Rivard Report on Friday.

The docked bike-share system, composed of 65 docking stations throughout the city, could cease operations if it is unable to secure a new primary source of funding, said JD Simpson, San Antonio Bike Share’s executive director.

“San Antonio Bike Share now finds itself without a sponsor,” Simpson said. “Southwest General Hospital sponsored the whole system.”

The dockless, electric scooter trend in San Antonio was “absolutely a factor” in the organization’s sudden decline, she said.

The rise of scooter-share, which is undocked and smartphone app-enabled, and other so-called micromobility options have severely cut into the organization’s revenue, as user fees have decreased along with membership dues. San Antonio Bike Share vehicles are available to rent via a day pass, or monthly or annual memberships.

Board member Mark Ng said San Antonio Bike Share is racing against the clock to reach a new sponsorship deal. Southwest General Hospital had a sponsorship agreement in place that was set to continue through 2020, but when the hospital organization was acquired by a national private hospital consortium and underwent a change in leadership, the sponsor decided to opt out of the deal, he said.

If San Antonio Bike Share fails to secure a new sponsor, Simpson said the organization has enough funds to survive past the Dec. 31 date its sponsorship agreement will end, but beyond that the prospects look bleak for the nonprofit.

User fees and membership dues used to cover about 70 percent of the organization’s operating expenses, Ng said. That has since decreased to 30 percent since the 2018 arrival of e-scooters. Losing San Antonio’s only bike-share service would harm the city’s ability to carry out plans regarding mobility, the environment, and health and wellness, he said.

San Antonio Bike Share saw a modest boost in revenue in October, which it attributes to the summer rollout of pedal-assist e-bikes, Simpson said. The growing popularity of e-bikes has been one of the sole bright spots for the organization in 2019. If San Antonio Bike Share can continue to win back members who switched to scooter-share, Simpson said e-bikes and other innovations, such as smaller docking stations that give riders more flexibility, will help sustain the organization moving forward.

“[Rider] interest in pedal-assist e-bikes has shown we have a place – that we are a viable entity with the new products we’ll be introducing,” she said.

The City Council will soon vote on which three scooter operators can continue to provide service in San Antonio beyond the fall, when a pilot program that saw as many as seven companies and 16,000 authorized vehicles is slated to end. That measure is slated to shrink the fleet to just about 5,000 scooters total, which could help San Antonio Bike Share in the long run.

But Ng emphasized dockless e-scooters and docked bikes can coexist as long as the City can bring the sidewalk clutter and other scooter-related issues under control.

“It’s not a binary choice,” he said. “It’s not scooters or bikes; it’s a combination. You want to offer the city options for residents and visitors alike.”

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