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Brewing bikeshare battle may threaten SF’s Ford GoBike contract

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Ford GoBike’s exclusivity contract with The City could present problems for Jump, a bikeshare competitor. (Michael Barba/S.F. Examiner)
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It’s not just a bump in the road. The latest conflict between stationless bikeshare companies and San Francisco has seemingly hit a full-on obstacle course.

San Francisco’s transportation agency is preparing to issue its first permit to a competitor of Ford GoBike, potentially threatening a contract between the Bay Area and the $65 billion Ford Motor Company.

Jump, an electric bikeshare company, could offer as many as 1,000 bikes to San Franciscans to rent should the permit be finalized.

But that permit allegedly runs afoul of an exclusivity contract Ford entered into with The City, along with its administrator of the bikeshare program, Motivate.

Though no entity has formally sued another, the possible threat of legal action from Motivate and Ford has allegedly driven the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to begin a “dispute resolution process” between the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Bay Area Motivate LLC, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

That dispute resolution process was described in a letter sent to SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin by MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger on Friday, which was obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.
“It is clear a dispute exists as to the exclusive rights to operate a bikeshare program in the City and County of San Francisco,” Heminger wrote.

He continued, “We understand that the SFMTA is considering imminent issuance of a permit to another bikeshare operator,” but, he wrote that Ford GoBike, which was formerly called Bay Area Bike Share, was created without cost to the public and paid for by Ford, based on the expectation that San Francisco and other Bay Area cities would allow them to exclusively run bikeshare programs.

“This dispute is of region-wide significance,” Heminger continued, “as it could undermine the FordGo bikeshare program” and cause similar conflicts to arise “in other participating cities.”

Ford GoBike’s fleet launched under the moniker Bay Area Bike Share in 2013 as a pilot project with just 700 bikes in The City. In June 2017, the system launched as Ford GoBike, with the program’s proponents promising 1,750 bikes available for rent at docks throughout San Francisco by the end of 2017, and 7,000 bikes by 2018.

As part of the exclusivity agreement with San Francisco, Motivate agreed to expand its program into less economically viable neighborhoods and to offer steeply discounted programs for low-income communities.

Now, with Jump’s possible entry into the market, that agreement may be under threat.

“Not that I’m taking sides, but from the perspective of Motivate I can see how they feel wronged by this,” said Jason Henderson, a San Francisco State University professor who specializes in urban mobility.

“In exchange for providing that public service, they have to be guaranteed access to that market,” Henderson said. “If you’re bringing in other new dockless bikeshare that are cheaper to operate, harder to regulate and manage, it’s not fair.”

MTC runs Ford GoBike in conjunction with Motivate. Motivate declined to comment, and a spokesperson cited contractual confidentiality provisions of the resolution process.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said, “We are in receipt of the letter and will sit down with all parties to discuss the issues and best way to move forward.”

Jump did not return requests for comment.

Jump launched 100 “bright” red electric bicycles in San Francisco on June 26 with aid from a UC Berkeley research grant on the use of electric bicycles, which are free to use and offered by “invite,” according to the company’s website.

But sources speaking on background said Jump applied for a permit with the SFMTA to deploy 1,000 bicycles under new regulations for bikeshare entities passed in March, authored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

Those regulations specifically target bikeshare companies that don’t use stations; customers can leave bikes anywhere on a public sidewalk and unlock them via mobile phone app. This was prompted by the fear of companies, like Bluegogo, that allegedly allowed bikes to be left in messy piles throughout cities in China.

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