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SF transit officials discuss granting dockless bikeshare permits amid legal challenge

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Ford GoBike’s exclusivity contract with San Francisco could present problems bikeshare competitors. (Michael Barba/S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s transportation agency moved to potentially grant permits for at least four dockless bikeshare companies prior to facing legal challenges for potentially permitting one dockless bikeshare program in The City, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

When Bluegogo, a similar dockless bikeshare company, discussed entry into San Francisco, city officials cried foul in January, fearing the potential for piles of bikes to litter city sidewalks.

Now, four dockless bikeshare companies — Spin, MoBike, LimeBike and Social Bicycle — have all been in discussion with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to begin operation in The City, according to records obtained by the Examiner.

Emailed discussions occurred just prior to — and in some cases, after — Bay Area Motivate, LLC and the SFMTA entered a “dispute resolution process,” mediated by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, to settle conflicts over San Francisco’s contract with the Ford GoBike bikeshare program.

The heart of the dispute is whether entering into an exclusivity contract with Motivate for Ford GoBike, which docks its bikes on city sidewalks, prevents San Francisco from granting permits to dockless bikeshare companies.

Though Motivate declined to comment, citing confidentiality agreements as part of the conflict-resolution process, the company has previously said “no.”

“Having [four] different dockless bikeshares, plus the rightful franchisee, Motivate, just seems disingenuous,” said Jason Henderson, a San Francisco State University geography professor who specializes in urban mobility.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition did not comment directly on Motivate’s agreement with the SFMTA, but noted the exclusivity agreement led to the Bike Share For All program, which grants bikeshare accounts for $5 for low-income people and now has more than 1,000 signups.

“We fought for both Ford GoBike’s Bike Share for All program and the permit system for dockless bikeshare because we believe that any new transportation system should benefit as many people as possible,” said Chris Cassidy, a bike coalition spokesperson.

Emails to SFMTA transportation planner Heath Maddox, obtained by the Examiner, show SFMTA entered talks with dockless bikeshare companies throughout the summer and fall.

Jillian Irvin, an attorney for MoBike, wrote on Oct. to Maddox, “I will be in SF next week and, if you are free, would love to find time to chat in person or by phone about the permit process and next steps.”

Maddox and Irvin were in permit discussions, those emails show, only a day before the dispute resolution process between Motivate and SFMTA began.

The transportation planner also discussed permitting in emails with a LimeBike representative, the most recent of which was sent Oct. 24, nearly three weeks after the dispute with Motivate began.

Even the hint of dockless bikeshare in San Francisco ruffled the feathers of Ford GoBike’s administrator, Motivate.

Seeing Spin’s bikes at the Embarcadero, Motivate’s Vice President of Business Development Justin Ginsburgh wrote to Maddox in September, “All of these bikes we saw today parked at 2 Embarcadero fly in the face of working with the city on a permit.”

Randy Rentschler, director of legislation and public affairs at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is mediating between Motivate and SFMTA, downplayed the revelation of additional dockless bikeshare operators negotiating with the SFMTA.

The number of bikeshare operators in talks with SFMTA is “not the existential issue,” he said.

“It could be one vendor, or it could be three vendors,” he said. “The issue at hand is … how does it fit into the agreement each side has?”

That answer may arrive at the end of mediation between Motivate and SFMTA. The SFMTA did not respond before press time to describe the status of those discussions.

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