Transit: While car trips declined, bus usage and bike ridership remained strong during the pandemic. File photos

Santa Monica’s Shared Mobility program will soon be expanded to include four operators after a 5-2 vote by City Council this week.

Staff recommended that Council shift the city’s mobility program from its current permitting model to a contracting model in order to mitigate affordability concerns and market volatility that has disrupted service for some customers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Councilmembers decided to extend the city’s current pilot program to June 30, 2021, approve a second permit-based Shared Mobility Pilot Program and asked staff to issue a Request for Applications seeking for up to four shared mobility operators in Santa Monica from July 1, 2021, through March 30, 2023.

An RFA process similar to the undertaken for the City’s first shared mobility pilot is now expected to be done this spring, and at the conclusion of the pilot program, the City will move to a contract-based system, beginning on March 31, 2023.

City leaders said in a recent news release the decision is part of Santa Monica’s commitment to being a multi-modal city, which is also demonstrated by Council’s decision to allow the use of Class I and II and electric bikes on Santa Monica’s portion of the beach bike path.

“We’ve always taken a flexible approach to shared mobility given how quickly the industry and community needs shift,” Mayor Sue Himmelrich said. “What has not changed is the value these devices bring in offering residents and visitors a convenient, accessible alternative to cars that can reduce vehicle congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Santa Monica is committed to safe, sustainable, and affordable transportation, and these values will guide the second pilot and future contracting process.”

Himmelrich also said this week she had a strong belief in the benefit of variety, which is why she opted to add a friendly amendment to Councilmember Phil Brock’s original motion Tuesday evening.

“The thing I keep thinking about is when airports used to have one vendor who had all the shops in the airport, and it sucked,” Himmelrich said during the discussion. “Pardon my French (but) I think variety is the spice of life… and I think we would do better seeing other models of mobility in the city.”

Councilmenber Gleam Davis asked why the City would consider adding four new operators who would have to adjust to various mandates pertaining to enforcement during one of the most chaotic times of the year.

“It’s not a good idea,” she said, reminding councilmembers June is only a few months away.

“We’d be looking at four more seasoned, more mature companies,” Councilmember Oscar de la Torre said, stating it’s safe to believe the onboarding process will go smoother than it has in the past based on the testimony of the different companies who phoned in to pitch the City on their product during public comment period Tuesday.

“These folks are paying attention and listening to us right now. They know that we have certain criteria and standards that we want them to meet. I think it’s totally doable,” de la Torre added.

Davis wasn’t alone in her concerns though. Councilmember Kristin McCowan also voiced apprehensions about staff’s capacity to handle the workload among other problems, but she recognized she was in the minority.

“We can vote on the motion, and I know where it’s going to go because I can count just like everybody else sitting here,” McCowan said. “What I’m saying is, I don’t like what we’re doing.”

Himmelrich said she understood. “I don’t like everything about it either,” she said. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”

The motion passed with McCowan and Davis as the pair of dissenting votes.