Wheels: Helbiz has purchased Wheels and will supplement the scooter fleet with a new group of electric bicycles starting this week. Grace Adams


Shared bicycles will be returning to Santa Monica this week when international mobility company Helbiz deploys its first vehicles in the city

Shared bicycles will be returning to Santa Monica this week when international mobility company Helbiz deploys its first vehicles in the city.

Santa Monica lost its dockless bike option last year when Lyft withdrew from the entire region but Helbiz recently purchased existing provider Wheels and will utilize those permits to launch up to 100 electric bicycles.

Helbiz is an international company with a portfolio of transit products including bike/scooters, food delivery, mopeds and insurance. The Wheels purchase gives Helbiz a foothold in the Los Angeles market as Wheels is the only company operating across all Los Angeles markets (L.A., Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Culver City).

“From a strategic perspective, this acquisition is expected to double revenue, expand the cities served, enhance margins, and reduce costs,” said Helbiz CEO and Founder Salvatore Palella. “Our focus is to adapt and grow with profitability at the core of every decision. This acquisition makes us even more confident in our ability to achieve that goal in the next 18 months. Our customers are utilizing cutting edge technology to make their lives easier and they are educating their communities through adoption. In the same vein, our goal is to demonstrate to the capital markets that the micro-mobility model is sustainable through data driven, highly focused, and tightly controlled expenditures.”

Helbiz said their bicycles will complement the Wheels scooter and offers a more traditional experience for users.

“Right away after the acquisition, we reached out to the cities where Wheels was permitted, one of these is the City of Santa Monica and the city was more than happy to see this change in the ownership of the company and basically we decided to request the possibility of including some of our vehicles as well in the city,” said Gian Luca Spriano, Director International Business Development.

Metro operates its own bikeshare program with bikes available at several Expo line stations but those devices need to be returned to designated locations at the conclusion of use. Veo has a vehicle that is technically a bike but functions predominantly as a sit-down scooter.

The companies are in the midst of merging their systems and said customers should be able to use either app to rent a device. The company will keep the Wheels brand and operational staff, meaning employees won’t have to relearn local rules and regulations.

While companies in Santa Monica have been operating under an extended pilot program, Lyft removed its scooters and shared bicycles from the region citing a lack of longterm commitments from area municipalities.

Santa Monica’s program authorizes four companies — Lyft, Spin, Veo and Wheels — supplying about 2,200 devices in Santa Monica neighborhoods, all regulated by the Santa Monica Department of Transportation.

The Phase 2 Pilot Program began in July 1, 2021 and runs through September of this year when the city will establish a contract model with one or two operators for a minimum of three years, with a total five-year term possible. The City will be begin recruiting its two contract providers this year.

A contract model would give the city more control over operations including the ability to influence rider rates and encourage equity efforts. The contract would also cover operational service levels, penalties and contract termination information.

“The City is pleased to see Wheels/Helbiz launching pedal-assisted e-bikes in Santa Monica,” said Senior Transportation Planner Trevor Thomas. “These devices will address substantial community demand for shared bikes and will join the rest of the City’s shared mobility fleet in providing convenient and sustainable mobility options.”


Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...