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Bike battle ignited as rentals fear Ford GoBike will ‘kill our industry’

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Ford GoBike is encroaching on San Francisco’s tourism industry. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)

Rental companies fear Ford GoBike’s newest pricing model may potentially cannibalize them — and now the bike companies find themselves in pitched political negotiations behind closed doors.

Ford GoBike, which is operated by bike share entity Motivate, recently unveiled its “GoPass,” a $15 voucher for unlimited three-hour trips in a 24-hour period.

Bike rental companies fear Motivate’s marketing and pricing for the GoPass is aimed at their customers — tourists — with The City’s backing.

“It’s completely and totally a life-threatening thing for our business,” said Jeanne Orellana, a spokesperson with Bay City Bike and Parkwide.

While competition among The City’s 15-plus bike rental companies isn’t new, Ford GoBike enjoys an exclusive app-based bike share contract with San Francisco, allowing it to place its iconic blue bikes in sidewalk stations across The City.

Importantly, that means The City does not charge Motivate for use of sidewalk space for bike share stations, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency — a major cost savings that brick and mortar bike rentals said they cannot compete with.

Motivate said the conflict was a misunderstanding, and that its primary business is commuters as a “last mile” solution for those taking buses and trains. “We see our services as complementary,” wrote Dani Simons, a Motivate spokesperson, in a statement.

The bike rental companies have met with Motivate, the Mayor’s Office and other officials since last week to work out a compromise.

“I’m not going to let the Ford Motor Company do to our mom-and-pop businesses what Uber did to the taxi industry,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Fisherman’s Wharf.

Peskin said that if Ford and Motivate did not “stay in their lane,” the Board of Supervisors may block their recently announced expansion of more than 100 new bike share stations throughout The City.

“They better behave themselves or deal with the consequences,” he said.

Troy Campbell, director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District, said bike rental companies employ hundreds of people at the Wharf. In the negotiations with Motivate, he said, the company did not deny it would advertise its bike services in tourist-targeted publications.

References to riding bikes to the Golden Gate Bridge on Ford Go Bike’s “Explore SF” web page were removed after drawing criticism.

The bike rental companies, Campbell said, have “been told for years and years and years, ‘chill out, this is not about tourism.’ Clearly, that’s changed.” To Jeff Sears, owner of the iconic local bike rental company Blazing Saddles, marketing the bridge to bike share customers was a clear message: Motivate is chasing tourists.

“We were always very concerned they would crossover into our market,” he said.

“Sure enough, they did.”

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