“Equity” is a word that gets tossed about frequently, sometimes a little too lightly, as a conceptual argument. At the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday night, the word came up as a justification to allow a bike rental company to install 9-foot plastic kiosks in an area that has always been considered “sensitive” in aesthetic terms.

Randy Rowse

Randy Rowse (Noozhawk file photo)

These “payment stations” allow customers to pay with cash or credit cards as opposed to Apple Pay or website-type methods. The reasoning is that lower income people may not possess an iPhone and thus be less likely to access the $7 per 30 minute bike rides. Fair enough.

“Process” is that little slice of heaven that involves many agencies’ review and approval, particularly in sensitive coastal areas. It can be a frustrating exercise with arcane logic and an endless time span. Ask anyone who has developed a business, asked for a sign permit or remodeled their building anywhere in Santa Barbara, let alone the coastal zone.

Yet these kiosks were not even mentioned on the application and were an 11th-hour surprise. No problem. “Equity”?

Local established businesses have had their ups, but mostly downs lately, and at least three of them provide Ebikes for rent. Those businesses operate within their permitted areas and not in the public right of way.

Were those independent local businesses presented with the same opportunity to invest and install the permitted bike docking stations? If there was a fair competitive process, then so be it. If not, what about “equity”?

Ebikes are fun and becoming increasingly popular, no question. The proposed equipment appears to be high quality.

But if their existence in Santa Barbara is truly about alternative transportation, then why aren’t the kiosks at the train and bus stations? Why not in the outer neighborhoods? Why not next to or in city parking structures?

Locating them on the busiest tourist-traveled street in town seems to speak more to competing with those established companies that have provided tourists with equipment rental for years.

If customer payment methods are problematic, why isn’t the bike company being asked to provide a more satisfactory solution?

But the larger question to be answered is this: If State Street is truly slated to become a “pedestrian promenade,” how do mechanized machines capable of 17 mph fit in the pedestrian mix? Pedestrian safety/equity, anyone?

— Randy Rowse is a former Santa Barbara city councilman and the retired owner of Paradise Café. The opinions expressed are his own.