Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hollywood Car Share Stalls, Electric Bikes Debut

CityWatch, Apr 27, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 33

Bechir Blagui's vision for an electric community car-share program on Hollywood Boulevard is unfulfilled but his commitment to providing a sustainable transportation solution for his neighborhood is as strong as ever. As he continues the grapple with LA's unique bureaucratic landscape, Blagui came up with an innovation that has locals and tourists alike slowing down and smiling, Hollywood's first electric bike rental program.

Blagui's ongoing efforts to deliver on his promise to place electric charging stations on Hollywood Boulevard have only resulted in a frustrating journey down a bureaucratic rabbit hole, taking him to the Mayor's office, to the City Council, to the DWP, the LADOT, the City Attorney's office and Assemblyman Mike Feuer's office, none of which took him any closer to his original goal, an electric community car share program.

Along the way, Blagui visited other cities to survey the best and worst of their car share programs and in cities both small and large he found curbside charging stations, car share companies operating freely in a competitive market, and a customer base that demanded a variety of options. Inspired by a recent tour that took him from San Francisco to San Jose to Philadelphia, he returned to LA and looked for a solution, coming up with a program that had no obstacles, an electric bike rental program.

LA's City Council Transportation Committee has a long history of sustainable transportation discussion, most of which go nowhere. Meanwhile, on the streets, it's a local business operator who delivers electric bike rentals to Hollywood.

This simple success story of a local business operator with a fleet of electric rental bikes is significant for two reasons:

1) Mayor Villaraigosa's State of the City address of last week again referred to his unfulfilled vision of becoming America's Greenest Big City, this time with his proclamation of "a plan that once and for all makes Los Angeles the undisputed national leader in green energy and green jobs."

Time after time the people of Los Angeles watch LA's leadership talk the talk but when it comes to implementing sustainable business plans, it turns out that LA is the land of obstacles, not solutions.

Small businesses are a major part of our economy. They innovate and they create new jobs at a faster rate than larger organizations. The real change on the horizon will come from the bottom up, not from the top down, and if the Mayor and the City Council are serious about a green economy, they'll look at the Hollywood Rent A Car experience and they'll get busy removing the obstacles that have kept LA from developing the sustainable transportation solutions that are common in other large cities.

2) LA's high-altitude approach to transportation solutions makes for great press but the simply reality on the streets is personal. Simply synchronizing the services that LA already provides so that our streets are efficiently maintained, repaired, patrolled and enhanced is not only good for cyclists, it's good for local businesses, pedestrians, mass transit passengers and motorists. In fact, what's good for cyclists is also good for the community.

The lesson learned at Hollywood Rent a Car is one the Mayor might consider: When approaching the problem, take a look at it from the cyclists' perspective. It worked for Bechir, it might work for LA.

(Stephen Box is a cycling advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)

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