San Diego is one of the country’s most expensive cities to live in.

Following suit, San Diego’s bike-share program is gearing up to be the most expensive program in the U.S. for users. The program is finally set to launch at the end of October after numerous delays.

Comparing Prices

Throughout the U.S., bike-share programs operate with similar business models under different companies. Essentially, a user can buy a membership – which usually lasts for a month, several months or a year – or an access pass, which can vary in length of time between a day and a month.

San Diego’s bike-share program, operated and entirely funded by the company DecoBike, will cost $125 for an annual membership (though it’s $99 for the first 1,500 people who sign up), $20 for a monthly subscription or $15 for a 24-hour pass.

A membership grants access to a bike for 30 minutes before additional charges kick in. At the end of 30 minutes, bikers must either return the bike and get a new one to continue on their way, or pay another $5 for each additional 30 minutes on the same bike.

Under this model, it makes more sense to use the bikes as an alternate form of transportation (i.e., to get to work, a trolley stop) rather than for recreation (i.e., a leisurely ride around the beach), as the free 30-minute limit on a single bike favors short bursts of riding over long trips.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Minneapolis has one of the cheapest bike-share programs. Nice Ride Minnesota, the bike-share company there, charges $65 for an annual membership (almost half of DecoBike San Diego’s annual fees), and $15 for a 30-day pass.

Other cities have varied prices that still fall below San Diego’s. Chicago and Washington, D.C.’s bike-share programs charge an annual fee of $75. Denver’s yearly fee is $80, San Francisco’s is $88 and New York’s is $95.


The closest in price is Miami Beach, another city that operates under DecoBike. Its monthly prices fall about $5 cheaper than San Diego’s, although its daily prices are strangely about $10 more expensive than San Diego’s.

Why Is It So Expensive Here?

Many bike-share cities – including Washington D.C. and Minneapolis –  rely on a combination of government subsidy and private investment to get started. The injection of government funds allows the programs to keep prices down for consumers.

But San Diego’s bike-share program is entirely funded by an $8 million investment from DecoBike. The city is slated to rake in about $1 million to $2.6 million from the program at no cost to taxpayers.

David Silverman, DecoBike’s marketing director, said a higher price was necessary for the private model to pay off.

San Diego’s program will be larger and more spread out than DecoBike’s other system in Miami Beach, Silverman said, which also requires a higher fee.

Nevertheless, John Anderson, a board member of activist group BikeSD, said high prices could give San Diegans pause before taking advantage of the bikes.

“Costs can definitely be a hindrance,” Anderson said. “But hopefully if it is an impediment, they’d be able to adjust it over time.”

Anderson said San Diego’s DecoBike could go the way of New York’s bike-share system, which is also privately funded. Granted, New York’s membership prices are still among the highest. But to try to keep them down, Alta Bicycle Share partnered with Citigroup in New York in a $41 million deal that put the Citi logo on all the bikes, rebranding the program as “CitiBike.”

“I think there is a threshold that could dis-incentivize people from [joining DecoBike], but hopefully they will reach out to local companies to make the annual subscriptions more affordable if that becomes a problem,” Anderson said.

Silverman, the marketing director at DecoBike, didn’t rule that out.

“Our contract with the city allows for advertising on the bike kiosks as a means for generating revenue to support our investment,” he said in an email. “This could take the form of a sponsor who would be granted naming rights, like the New York system, but we don’t have a sponsor identified at this time.”

Meanwhile, Anderson said he hopes the company will be able to adjust if the launch doesn’t pan out as planned.

“Having a private operator is a little bit different operation than what most cities offer,” he said. “But I know [DecoBike is] in Miami and other cities, so hopefully they can draw on those experiences to adjust the prices if it doesn’t quite work out.”

    This article relates to: Bike Plans, Bike Policy, News, Share

    Written by Matthew Hose

    Matthew is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can reach him at

    Joe Point
    Joe Point subscriber

    WOW....can you spell DOA?  Actually DBA is better...these prices ensure the program is DEAD BEFORE ARRIVAL.

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons subscribermember

    I've used Bike Share systems as my primary mode of transportation (other than walking) in New York, Austin, and San Francisco.  And in NYC and San Francisco, it appeared many people were using them to commute to work.  But of course those cities are laid out very differently than ours.  In my opinion, this headline creates a story that is different than the actual news.  Pushing the notion that this is the most expensive bike share for users of the system as the narrative invites readers to ignore that it is also a system that quite possibly best aligns the costs and risks of the system with those most interested in it - users and the private company that is installing it.  Perhaps once it's operating we could revisit a subsidy in high tourist/traffic areas to add another amenity in our city's competition for out of town visitors and workforce talent.  But I'd be leery about doing this without some meaningful evidence that it would actually attract more of those groups.  As it stands, we have huge problems to pay for in this city and I think the city got this one mostly right.  They are trying to bring an amenity to the city.  And the existence of more bikes will force us as a community to be a bit more observant of bikes and their proper place on our roadways.  This headline leads people directly to the conclusion that the city has failed us by making the system the most expensive in the country.  Without context, I suspect Voice's own fact checkers might pull out the Pinocchio.  For example, if the City of San Diego's system is actually the least expensive system in the nation (as measured by cost to the already taxed general fund), this headline could have just as easily been written in the exact opposite phrasing. Really an odd choice for a headline. 

    mike mata
    mike mata subscriber

    This will be interesting, outside of San Diego being a 'bike friendly' type of town for mainly tourist. I think there will just a big pile of bikes at Petco on a home game basis. 

    Java Joe
    Java Joe subscriber

    Leave it to San Diego to screw up a good idea.  It seems "No Cost to Taxpayers" is the governing rule to anything that goes forward here.  Otherwise it just doesn't happen, which is why San Diego is the most beautiful dud city in the country.  Lovely to look at, but underneath it all, there's just nothing here.  The bike program is doomed to failure because of this short-sighted and cheap attitude.


    @StoicMedia True, hope that it happens sooner than later. If we want to be bike friendly, we need to make it accessible and affordable.

    Ken Platt
    Ken Platt subscriber

    So who outside of the 50 square block area of downtown would benefit from this? Do they really think that people from Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch, or San Carlos (all areas nowhere near a trolley stop) would use these bikes to get to work? Even is someone did attempt to make that ride from those locations, there is no way they could do it in 30 minutes and would end up paying even more for this service.

    Bill Henderson
    Bill Henderson subscriber

    I support the private enterprise model for providing a bicycle-sharing program. There are already companies in certain parts of the city that rent bikes. Competition is good. Is $125 dollars for the annual plan too much? We'll find out. The market will speak loud and clear.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    What type of bikes will be for rent?


    Schwinn Typhoon Two-speed Kickback

    Bill Davidson
    Bill Davidson subscriber

    @Matty Azure : Bike share bikes are designed to deter theft which means that they are heavy and have parts that don't interchange well with other bikes.  Theft rates are low in other cities, even New York City.  These are not hot bikes.  They are basic transportation and little else.

    The upside is that you don't have to store the bike.  You don't have to maintain the bike.  It's just there when you need it, as long as your source and destination are somewhat close to bike share stations and those stations are within a 30 minute ride of each other.

    Steven Croft
    Steven Croft subscriber

    The whole bike sharing (renting) plan is amazing. The City is not paying anything so there will be no cost to taxpayers. Except the $60K a month lost revenue from the removed parking meters mentioned previously. How they arranged the locations to place the Kiosks in place of parking spaces without City staff time being used is amazing to me. I hope if I want to start a similar business  I could get the same accommodations. Deco bike is investing $8 million The city is investing nothing but will get $1 to $1.6 million dollars over what time frame I am unsure but that seems like a lot of memberships and bike rides needed to cover those costs. A great return on the tax payers Money although the City is not having to invest or spend any. I imagine the places at the beach or downtown that rent bikes could be effected by a bike sharing program if it becomes real successful in those areas but existing business don't seem to be any concern when new things come along. I am all for Bicycling  and preserving our environment but this seems too good to be true. Hopefully it all works out.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    Well why should it be a cost to taxpayers?  It is a nice explanation from the VOSD.  Our system appears to be fairer because the actual users pay for a service and the non-users pay nothing since they aren't using it.  Sounds good to me.  I'm all for it, and hope that government keeps out of the way.  Perhaps a few other folks will try to start similar businesses and we'll even see some competition.

    paul jamason
    paul jamason subscribermember

    @shawn fox Non-drivers pay for roads when general funds are used for construction and maintenance.  SANDAG spent a few hundred million dollars of public money buying the bankrupt South Bay Expressway toll road (and on associated bonds), yet the majority of San Diegans don't use it.  Does your "only users should pay" approach apply in these cases too, or just for bike share?  

    Unlike the above examples, bike share offers health benefits that could reduce government's share of spending on obesity (total U.S. cost: $190 billion in 2011).  Other cities have secured grants from health organizations for this reason:

    Bill Davidson
    Bill Davidson subscriber

    @shawn fox :  Most of the on street parking in San Diego is free.  There are meters in downtown and parts of Hillcrest and a few other areas but mostly parking on the street is subsidized by the taxpayers.  The roads themselves are mostly paid for by the taxpayers.  Nothing is more subsidized in San Diego than the personal motor vehicle.

    southswell subscriber

    Since you can ride a bike in nice weather 2-3 times more often in San Diego, the annual fee seems a bargain compared to Minneapolis or Chicago and we have less hilly terrain than S.F.

    Bill Davidson
    Bill Davidson subscriber

    @southswell Saying less hilly terrain than S.F. is like saying it's less hot than Death Valley.  We're still pretty hilly, though our hills are not particularly large and only a few of them are particularly steep.