JUMP on, ride off Santa Cruz’s bike share program is a hit

By Kathryn McKenzie

Santa Cruz is truly a bicycle-friendly city — you can’t go more than a block or two without seeing someone pedaling along. And now there’s a new set of bikes in town, and they’re meant to be shared.

If you live there or have traveled through recently, no doubt you’ve seen the sturdy neon red bikes, outfitted with jaunty baskets in front, and down tubes emblazoned with the word JUMP. You may have asked yourself: What in the world is a JUMP Bike, and what are they doing there?

The JUMP Bike share program was introduced in late May, and by all accounts is already a roaring success. Santa Cruz transportation planner Claire Fliesler told me that when the bikes were first being rolled out, with an average of just 65 on the streets in June, each bike was being ridden 5.8 times a day — far exceeding trips in other JUMP Bike cities, which average more like one to two times per day.

The city is continuing to track the numbers to see if usage remains this high with the full complement of 250 bikes now in play. It’s possible that Santa Cruz will get even more as time goes on, according to JUMP regional community relations manager Meaghan Mitchell.

Who’s riding them? Seemingly everyone. These include commuters seeking an easier, more eco-friendly means to get to work; people who want to park their cars in a central location and then run errands; and tourists who decide that it might be nice to take a ride by the seashore.

For people who don’t own bikes but occasionally want to ride one, it’s a great resource.

Called e-bikes, they feature an electric assist motor that kicks in relative to how much you pedal. Nice retro touches include the basket, a kickstand, and a built-in bell on the left handle. Cost is $1 for 15 minutes, or 7 cents a minute if you go over the half-hour mark. A monthly pass is also available for $30.

“It’s another mobility option,” said Fliesler, who herself rides a JUMP bike back and forth to work three days a week — in a suit, yet. The idea is to shift people away from using their cars as a way to mitigate Santa Cruz traffic.

“We estimate that if everyone used alternative transportation one day a week, the traffic would be reduced by 20 percent,” she said.

Santa Cruz resident David Van Brink, an avid cyclist, has his own bike but also uses JUMP Bikes occasionally. He calls himself a “transit and infrastructure enthusiast” who works with Santa Cruz County Friends of Rail & Trail, which is developing a 32-mile biking and walking trail that will run the length of the county. He’s delighted to see a bike share program in the city.

“It’s been very encouraging to see the JUMP Bikes in use, parked at various places, not at hubs (means someone used them),” he wrote on Messenger. “Almost any trip around town, I see evidence of their usage.”

There are 27 stations throughout Santa Cruz — official racks for the bikes — although bikes can be left and locked at any outdoor rack or other manmade structure, such as a post, as long as it’s not blocking the sidewalk. JUMP employees locate them through the GPS system, and stop by to pick them up and take them back to a JUMP rack.

VIDEO | Take a ride

Playing ride and seek

If you want further confirmation that JUMP Bikes are a popular new addition to the Santa Cruz scene, all you have to do is try to find one. To rent a bike, you need two pieces of equipment: a smartphone and a credit card, plus the app that allows you to rent the GPS-equipped bikes. On the JUMP smartphone app, you can see where bikes are located, and the app also lets you reserve a bike in advance.

But on this particular day, JUMP bikes were in short supply.

I had enlisted the help of my offspring Ross Nichols, a millennial dude who fears no smartphone app or bicycle. In fact, he’s an experienced cyclist who regularly bikes from his rented room near the Mystery Spot to his job at Long Marine Lab.

I, on the other hand, had not been on a bicycle since before Bill Clinton was president. So I needed a biking buddy. (I could probably have figured it out myself, but what the heck. It’s nice to have one’s eldest son along for the ride.)

As it turned out, it was an absolutely perfect blue-sky wispy-cloud day, with gorgeous coastside views, and more importantly, not too many cars or people to run into.

We found two JUMP Bikes on a rack on Delaware Street, on the West Side just a few blocks from the ocean. A control panel on the back of each bike tells you its status, and alas, one said NEEDS REPAIR — a message that means it can’t be rented. So that one was a no-go.

The other, however, was ready to roll after entering a code from the app to unlock it. But we still needed to find one more bike. Using the app, we found one a few blocks away, locked to a signpost. Ross snagged it and we were on our way.

JUMP Bikes do take a little getting used to. They’re sturdy and heavy to accommodate the internal electronics and the battery, so it’s not like riding an Italian racing bike. Successful cornering took a wee bit of practice, at least for me.

But the fun part is when the electric assist motor kicks in. With very little effort, you zoom along, and it’s especially handy going up hills. In fact, I felt like I was flying up those inclines — and it was definitely a rush.

We saw at least 15 other people using JUMP Bikes on our half-hour, 3-mile meander and I can attest that everyone was smiling.

Yet not everyone in the area is a JUMP Bikes fan.

In response to the announcement of expansion in other cities posted on the JUMP Bikes Facebook page, a Santa Cruz resident wrote, “Two new places that will be littered with these ugly eyesores. You are a blight on the cities you’re in.”

Other people, my son included, expressed some reservations about safety issues. Ross noted that bike helmets should somehow be included in the rental; although helmets are not mandatory in California, they are urged by the city and on JUMP Bikes’ Safety page on its website.

The city of Santa Cruz has a listing of places on its website where bike helmets can be rented; however, it’s difficult to know how many JUMP cyclists simply throw caution to the wind and ride unprotected.

Jumping into JUMP

Santa Cruz had been seeking some kind of bike share program for at least 10 years, and although such programs were available, they were expensive and dependent on the bikes being returned to docking stations.

But once dockless systems became available — with GPS built into the bikes themselves — the city started looking seriously at them last year, Fliesler said. “We cold-called bike vendors and inadvertently started a bidding war,” she said.

That meant the city had to put out a request for proposal, or RFP, and the result was seven proposals from bike-share vendors — somewhat mind-blowing, considering that Santa Cruz has only 64,000 residents.

The best proposal, in the eyes of city staff, came from JUMP Bikes, which was acquired by Uber earlier this year. JUMP put its first system into Washington D.C. in September 2017 and has since added San Francisco, Chicago, some areas of New York City, and other large urban areas. (Santa Cruz is the smallest city served by JUMP.) The city signed a five-year contract with the company.

Then, said Fliesler, came the process of having public meetings, getting feedback, talking to neighbors in the places where JUMP stations would be placed, and going through the necessary channels to create them — several have had to be approved by the Coastal Commission, Fliesler noted.

What is interesting is that the city hasn’t put any money into this, other than staff time. “There’s no cost to the city and the vendor assumes all risk,” said Fliesler. The company also gets all financial rewards. JUMP Bikes employs eight people in Santa Cruz and has a facility on Post Street where the local bikes are repaired and recharged.

The program had a soft launch and then the official start the last week of May, and gradually has been ramping up to the full number of 250 bikes. As it stands now, say Fliesler and Mitchell, this quantity may not be enough for cycle-happy Santa Cruz. But that will only come after some months of study to see if they’re truly needed.

“We’ll continue to monitor their use,” said Fliesler. “We have to hit various thresholds in ridership and utilization. The next step would be 500 bikes, but we are going with the Goldilocks principle” — not too many, not too few, but just the right number.

Fliesler says that the average ride on a JUMP Bike in Santa Cruz is about 3 miles — so she feels people are replacing car trips with bike trips. The longest trip so far, she said, is just under 26 miles. (The GPS systems in the bikes allow the company and the city to gather data on their use.)

What she’s hearing about the bikes, Fliesler said, is “awesome. We’re getting really, really good feedback.” And now UC Santa Cruz has expressed interest in having JUMP hubs on campus.

Mitchell said JUMP Bikes is promoting safety by having representatives appear at various city events, most recently the Street Smarts Family Fun Day, and will be hosting “Lunch & Learns” to further locals’ familiarity with the program and the bike’s features. “We also partner with community stakeholders and host rides. We recently co-hosted a ride-along with mayor David Terrazas,” she said.

She notes that she wasn’t a cyclist herself until getting on a JUMP Bike in San Francisco, where she works. Now she’s hooked.

“JUMP simply has the ability to bring together people who don’t ride bikes with people who do ride bikes,” Mitchell said.

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Kathryn McKenzie

About Kathryn McKenzie

Kathryn McKenzie grew up in Santa Cruz, worked for the Monterey Herald for 10 years, and now freelances for a variety of publications and websites. She and husband Glenn Church are the co-authors of "Humbled: How California's Monterey Bay Escaped Industrial Ruin" (Vista Verde Publishing, 2020).